Many parents nowadays see the advantage of children mastering two or more languages and they are keen to know how this can be achieved.
Bilingualism is usually achieved by the following means:
- Each parent or parents/grandparents speak different languages and use their own language to communicate with the child.
- The parents (or one of them) speak a different language to that which is spoken where they are living.
- The children spend periods of time in different countries, which usually entails going to school there.
In these cases it is fairly clear how the children will naturally become bilingual but supposing the parents are, for example, both Portuguese speakers and they live in Portugal, how can they bring up their children to be bilingual?
- They can enrol them in foreign language schools either full or part-time.
- They can send them abroad on summer courses.
What other ways are there of encouraging use of a second language?
From an early age they can be exposed to songs, films and stories in the target language. This is especially true if the parents do not speak or have a good command of the target language.
Although it is true that the earlier a child is exposed to a foreign language, the easier it is to get the pronunciation right, that does not mean a learner cannot become bilingual at a later stage. It will depend on exposure to the target language and receptivity on the part of the learner.
Total immersion in the second language for just a few hours a week over the course of a few years can have a great effect and if the lessons take the form of using the language to complete a task rather than making the language itself the goal, the students will be more inclined to function in the language like native-speakers and less inclined to see it as just another school subject to be 'learned'. I was able to observe this while working at the British Council, where we used a task-based approach and also from my experience working in international schools.
One way of immersing learners in the language is through reading. Films and songs are helpful too but books have several advantages. Films consist mainly of dialogue and will not widen the learner's range of language such as description and the use of connectors to create more complex sentences. Furthermore, reading enables the learner to explore what is happening in the language and gives him or her the chance to go back and see again how the sentences are formed. Songs can widen the learner's vocabulary but within limits. Also a lot of modern songs make free with the language and may encourage bad habits.
THE ROLE OF MONOLINGUAL TEXTS
It is important to introduce learners to books written for native-speakers and at a very early age there will be few problems as young children are still trying to puzzle things out in their first language. As they become more entrenched in their first language, it will require more effort on the part of the learner to read a book in a second language. In this case, simplified readers can help, but unfortunately, some of these sound very unnatural and encourage students to use a stilted kind of English of the type: "Mary is looking for Joe. Where is Joe? He isn't here. Mary is looking in the kitchen....."etc.
Wherever possible, we should encourage our students to tackle books written for native-speakers in order to gain proficiency in the language
but bilingual texts can give valuable support until the learner has a good command of the language.
THE ROLE OF BILINGUAL BOOKS
Bilingual books can give learners support at any age but I am going to focus on the Primary School years from 5 to 10. This is the stage at which we must foster their love for the written word as reading is the key to all subsequent learning. How can bilingual books help?
AUTONOMY - The student can read the L2 version but look at the L1 version if they can't understand something. Alternatively, a child might read the story first in L1 and then want to tackle the version in L2. Here is a picture (above) of my great-nephew, Sam (7), who received a copy of my bilingual book 'Freda and Fernando on the River Tagus' for Christmas. Apparently, after he had read the English version he started trying to read the Portuguese version. He has visited Portugal but never studied Portuguese. His natural curiosity made him want to try.
INVOLVEMENT OF FAMILY MEMBERS - In households where nobody speaks the target language, parents, grandparents etc can read the book with the child. When I was working at the British Council, my pupils took a book to read every week. Some of the parents told me that they helped the child by translating the text. If they had not been able to speak English, this help would not have been possible.
IMPORTANCE OF BOTH LANGUAGES - When we are teaching a foreign language to learners, they sometimes resent their own language being pushed into the background. Bilingual texts give equal validity to both languages.
DISCOURAGING WORD FOR WORD TRANSLATION - In a bilingual text we can see each language functioning naturally with its own idiosyncracies.
This will encourage learners not to apply the 'Google translator' approach to their writing. Here is an excerpt from my book 'Freda and Fernando on the River Tagus' and what each version looks like on the Google translator.
ENGLISH TO PORTUGUESE
As he pulled up alongside, he decided to welcome the newcomer: "Hello, I'm Fernando. What's your name?" he said with a smile.
Como ele parou ao lado, decidiu acolher o recém-chegado: ". Olá, sou Fernando. Qual o seu nome?" ele disse com um sorriso.
PORTUGUESE TO ENGLISH
Ao encostar, decidiu dar as boas vindas ao recém-chegado: - Olá, sou o Fernando. Como te chamas?- disse com um sorriso.
When touching, decided to welcome the newcomer: - Hello, I'm Fernando. What's your name - said with a smile
MIXED ABILITY - In a mixed ability class of, say, Portuguese children learning English, the students will always be able to understand the story, however weak their command of the L2, so they will not feel disadvantaged. If a teacher in Portugal is teaching an English class in which there are native English speakers, it can be a problem if there is no challenge for them but with a bilingual text, they may find the Portuguese version a challenge and even if they are bilingual, they will be interested in the story and they can be set more demanding post-reading tasks.
COMPARING AND CONTRASTING THE TWO LANGUAGES - Having the two texts side by side will help learners to see where words are the same or nearly the same and where they are different. It will also help them to get a 'feel' for each language.
EXPLOITING A BILINGUAL BOOK
The approach will vary according to the age and language level of the children but let's imagine a group of Portuguese seven-year-olds, who have very little knowledge of English, are going to read 'Freda and Fernando on the River Tagus'.
STAGE 1 - WARM-UP
Using L1 ask the children if they know Lisbon. Ask if they know the name of the river in Portuguese and in English. Talk about ways of crossing the river (bridge, boat). Use this stage to introduce some key words from the story.
Show the cover of the book and in L1 ask the children what they think the book is about. Any suggestion is valid. Ask them what they think will happen in the story.
STAGE 2 - GUESS WHAT THE STORY IS ABOUT
Show the pictures in sequence and let the children talk about them using L1 and L2 if they can.
STAGE 3 - USING L1
Read the Portuguese version aloud to the students.
STAGE 4 - USING L2
Read the English version aloud to the students.
STAGE 5 - RETELL STORY
Read/tell the story again in English getting the students to help.
STAGE 6 - SPOT THE MISTAKE
Read the story again making deliberate mistakes for the students to correct.
STAGE 7 - SONG
Sing the bilingual song 'Freda and Fernando'
STAGE 8 - FOLLOW-UP ACTIVITIES
- Draw/colour a picture
- Put the pictures in the right story sequence
- Make a paper boat
A BILINGUAL SESSION ON A SUMMER PROGRAMME
In July 2014 I helped with the summer programme at Albufeira Library. I admit that I had an ulterior motive as I wanted to try out my bilingual story, which at that time had not yet been taken up by a publisher. I was also missing teaching and welcomed the chance to work with children again.
It was very interesting working in this context because the participants were a heterogeneous group of 16 youngsters aged mostly 6 to 10 (with one 11-year-old and one 13-year-old)) and consisting of various nationalities. The session was not meant to be an English lesson as such and the children had varying levels of English from quite good to zero.
Below is an outline of how I kept them occupied for a three-hour morning.
TOPIC - TRANSPORT
1. Introduce self and get the kids to write their names on stickers.
2. Divide them into three teams A, B and C. Explain that we are going to use a mix of two languages, Portuguese and English.
3. Sing the GOOD MORNING SONG and SUMMER HOLIDAY.
4. Introduce the topic of TRANSPORT. Elicit words in Portuguese and English.
5. Show picture cards and word cards (in English) Practise the words.
6. MATCHING GAME. Each group has a set of picture cards and word cards. They match them.
7. MEMORY GAME. The picture cards and word cards are placed face downwards on the table. Players take it in turns to turn up two cards. If the picture and word match, they keep the cards.
8. FISHING GAME. Catch a 'fish' (pictures of the objects with a paper clip attached) with a magnet. Say: "I've got a.(bus)..." If you can say it correctly, you keep it. The winner is the one with the most cards at the end.
9. Songs: I'M RIDING MY BICYCLE and YELLOW SUBMARINE
STORY: FREDA E FERNANDO NO RIO TEJO
1. In Portuguese and English talk about Lisbon, the river and the ferry-boats eliciting as much as possible from the kids.
2. Read the story to the children in Portuguese.
3. Hand out the jumbled sentences. The kids put the story in the right order.
4. Read the story again. The children check and correct.
5. Sing the song FREDA AND FERNANDO.
6. Do the Portuguese WORDSEARCH ACTIVITY
7. Do the other Portuguese language activities about the story.
STORY: FREDA AND FERNANDO ON THE RIVER TAGUS
1. Read the story to the children in English.
2. Hand out the jumbled sentences. The children put them in the right order.
3. Read the story again. They check and correct.
4. Do the ENGLISH WORDSEARCH.
5. Do the other English language activities about the story.
6. Sing the song FREDA AND FERNANDO
7. Colour the picture.
What I found particularly rewarding about this session was the fact that I was able to keep children of different ages and abilities motivated and involved for 3 hours using two languages - a truly bilingual lesson.
By using a bilingual approach, with the aid of bilingual books, students learn that both languages are valid as vehicles of communication and they