Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Forget About the Laundry!

You may not have heard of Patricia Kuhl, Ph.D., faculty member in the Department of Speech and Hearing Sciences at the University of Washington and one of the world's leading authorities on language development, but if you have kept up on your research about children and language learning, you will have certainly come across her work. (Photo of the University of Washington is from the Institute for Learning and Brain Sciences homepage).

For example, you get what you give: When the craze for Baby Einstein DVDs came (and stayed) many of us were dismayed to see how many parents bought into the belief that all they had to do was to put their infant in front of a DVD program and magically he or she would gain the cognitive and language skills we so desired for them to have! Like an infant’s version of the movie “The Matrix”… plug in our baby and three hours later they will have downloaded what they need.

Luckily for humanity, this isn’t the case. It still takes direct human interaction for infants to learn our languages! We are still needed in the lives of our babies, at least when it comes to learning a language! Go ahead and put in that DVD but don’t walk away! Watch it with your infant and have some fun – you may even learn a thing or two and you will definitely be providing your infant with crucial social interaction while having fun at the same time!

In the first of two landmark studies, Dr. Kuhl and her team exposed 9-month-old infants to Mandarin Chinese “during a dozen 25-minutes sessions spaced out over four weeks. During these sessions, native Mandarin speakers read from children's books and played with toys while speaking Mandarin. Four different speakers, two men and two women, conducted the sessions, so the babies were exposed to a variety of speaking styles. A control group of infants was exposed to the same procedure in English.”

The infants from both groups (Mandarin exposure and English-only exposure) were then tested to determine their ability to distinguish between to two key Mandarin sounds which are not present in the English language which Americans often hear as “chee” or “she.”

In a second study, “The procedure was similar to the initial study except that half the infants were exposed to Mandarin by a DVD showing the same Mandarin speakers and materials on a 17-inch television. The other infants received their Mandarin exposure from an audio-only presentation of the DVD.”

There were multiple findings from these studies:

1. Even a few minutes of language learning each day can produce long lasting effects! “In fact, the performance of the American infants exposed to Mandarin for the first time between 9 and 10 months was statistically equivalent to infants in Taiwan who had listened to Mandarin for 10 months, according to Kuhl. The results show that the decline in foreign-language speech perception can be reversed with short-term exposure, she said.”

2. Social interaction is essential in language learning for infants at this age. To get the benefits of #1 above, it must be through social interaction. The infants who only had exposure to the DVDs or audiotapes had no phonetic learning and “scored at the same level as the English-only babies.” This means that you are essential in your infant learning your language, or any language for that matter. There is nothing that can replace you and others in providing your infant what he or she needs to pick up language!

3. Timing is important in language learning. At 9 months, infants are in a sensitive period in their language learning. And they are using all of their senses to do so. As Dr. Kuhl says, “language learning draws on all aspects of infants' cognitive abilities, including their attraction to 'motherese' (a form of exaggerated speech) spoken by adults to babies; the statistical learning that infants engage in by analyzing language; and the ability to follow the gaze of another person to an object to understand what they are talking about."

So, the next time you realize you have just spent a few hours cooing and talking and singing and reading out loud to your infant (or any age child for that matter) don’t feel guilty about not having done the dishes or the laundry or the shopping! Give yourself a big pat on the back for providing your child with the building blocks for a lifetime of language! All it takes is us being present and engaging with our kids.

Wow, who would have thought it was so easy!

For a report on this study and the link to the above quotes, go to: uwnews.washington.edu/ni/article.asp?articleID=2051

Monday, April 16, 2007

Peace Takes Courage

What is 16 year old home schooled Ava Lowery doing in Alabama these days? Ava is creating some of the most powerful videos against the Iraq war that I have seen in a while! She combines music, images and text and leaves us speechless. As the name of her site says, Peace Takes Courage! Let's hope that all of us can do our part in standing up for peace. As multilinguals and multiculturals, we know how absolutely important and essential this is!

Check out Ava's site here: www.peacetakescourage.com.

And before you go... make sure to listen to this song from musician and social/political activist Tom Morello. The words and tune in this song remind us of the urgency that is necessary to halt the rampages of inequality, racism, and war in our world!

Friday, April 13, 2007

Thinking Bloggers Meme

Trisha tagged me for the Thinking Bloggers Meme. She has a fabulous blog which I love visiting as much as possible. She is also a regular contributor to Multilingual Living Magazine with her touching essays about raising her bilingual children in Japan.

The directions I was given are these: 1. If, and only if, you get tagged, write a post with links to 5 blogs that make you think, 2. Link to this post so that people can easily find the exact origin of the meme, 3. Optional: Proudly display the ‘Thinking Blogger Award’ with a link to the post that you wrote.

As with Trisha, it wasn't easy for me to choose just 5 so if you are not included, that doesn't mean I don't love your blog! As you will see below... it is no surprise that most of the blogs I frequent have to do with bilingual and multilingual families! :-)

1. Momster - Irene's musings on life are fabulously touching, thoughtful, insightful and simply delightful. She never ceases to inspire me with her words and makes me want to live life just a little fuller.

2. Dinka - Sometimes funny, sometimes serious, but always a delight, Dinka's blog always gets me thinking! Her photos are also always an inspiration and fill out her entries so beautifully.

3. Between Pee and Kimchee - Jennifer is a writer through and through and her blog is a true testament to this. I delight in her literary entries and the way she is able to keep me captivated from beginning to end!

4. Mama(e) in Translation - Lilian is always full of insights and inspiration. She is a literature major from head to toe and you can tell. She doesn't let life go uncontemplated and delights us with her ability to look at it from yet a new perspective and to speak her mind!

5. Bilingual in the Boonies - Mami Hen's entries are always a pure delight. She has a witty edge to her entries that keep us readers laughing because we can relate completely!

There are so many more blogs that I love to frequent (even though I am bad and don't take the time to leave a comment!) and which delight me with inspiration, laughter and contemplation. Thank you all for your magical words!

Friday, April 6, 2007

Going Down

As many of you know, I have been going through a hard time the last month or so. But out of it has come my picking up the guitar again after over a year and writing a few songs. My last blog entry was one of those I wrote and here is a second one. This one is about what it feels like when I slip into these "down" periods of time. These times are very hard for me yet I know that ultimately they are necessary for getting myself back on track. This song is my version of what it feels like when this happens and the thoughts that go through my head.

Vocals: Me (Corey)
Guitar: Thomas (my brother)
Drum: Rainer (my husband)

We recorded this twice so I'm including both versions here...

First recording (note: it repeats automatically):

Second Recording (note: it repeats automatically):

I want to thank my good friends who have been the inspiration for my renewed desire to sing again. You know who you are, and you are the reason these songs came into being! Thank you!

Ain't No Time

After a little video preview in an earlier blog... here is the full song "Ain't No Time" for your listening pleasure. I wrote this song to represent all of us who are doing our little bit to try and change the world but who feel that no one is listening. Thank you my friends for giving me the courage to start singing again.

Vocals and background guitar: Me (Corey)
Lead guitar: Brother (Thomas)
Drum: Husband (Rainer)

(note: it repeats automatically)

Stay tuned for another version since I'm sure we will record it again in another key (this one is a little low for my voice).

I Adore You!

Dear blogging friends: I adore you! I can't say how much you have changed my life. Your words, they influence me for the better every day that I am alive. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for sharing your thoughts via your blogs, for taking the time to say what is on your mind, for sharing what is in your heart.

I have come to realize that Nena is right: "Dieses Leben geht jetzt einfach immer weiter, und dieses Leben geht ganz einfach geradeaus" ("this life just keeps going, this life just keeps going straight ahead" is that a good translation, my German-speaking friends?) and you have made it just that much easier for me to accept and to enjoy and to be myself because I don't feel so alone. You have given me the inspiration to keep plodding along, even during the times when it seemed so hard. You have done this through the power of words on a page... your words can change the world!

Thank you!

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Gingrich on Bilingualism (or what the heck is he talking about!)

Thank you Carrie for the link to this story! When I first read it, I looked at the date to find out if it was an "April Fools" story - because I was in shock!

When my family and friends outside of the U.S. ask me what the atmosphere is like here in terms of multilingualism, I realize it is very difficult to pin-point any specific attitude or overarching reactions. This is a big country and depending where you happen to be standing at any given moment, you will find different reactions to the words "bilingual," "multilingual" and "multicultural."

To highlight this point, read this story in CNN and you will get one aspect of a very large and complicated picture. Comments such as, "We should replace bilingual education with immersion in English so people learn the common language of the country and they learn the language of prosperity, not the language of living in a ghetto" from Newt Gingrich are simply from a position of ignorance. Of course, Gingrich's statement primarily has a political goal in the setting in which it was made: he is trying to win over a certain portion of the population by making statements which will ring true with them and to win their political support.

But think of the "cheers from the crowd of more than 100" after Gingrich made the statement that he did. Why are they cheering? Are they really so frightened of bilingualism? Why do they equate bilingualism with the ghetto? Is it not because this is NOT an issue of language... this is an issue of immigration.

Many people in the U.S. are frightened to death of the influence of immigrants. But they are not fearful of all immigrants, only poor immigrants. They are frightened of those to whom the Statue of Liberty beckons with open arms:

Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed, to me:
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.

(from "The New Colossus" by the nineteenth-century
American poet Emma Lazarus)

Bilingualism is the catch-all term for "immigration," "poverty," "decline of moral values," "failure of the schools," and "loss of social cohesion." (See my article on Zach and how he was suspended from school for speaking Spanish in the halls!)

On the one hand, a presentation like this from someone like Newt Gingrich makes us multilinguals laugh loud and hard because it is nothing but hilarious: we can see what a mishmash of topics he has tried to thrust together: Bilingual Education, Immigration, Multilingual Voter Information. These are three very distinct issues which can not be answered with one simple statement! And this man wants to run for president!? Yet, on the other hand, this frightens us to death because the audience loves it! They don't care about the nuances of these issues. Gingrich is simply adding fuel to a fire that is already blazing (albeit under muffled breaths sometimes) and that can be frightening to us multilinguals!

Our role in all of this? First of all, we need to remember that the U.S. is a country of contradictions. This is a LARGE country with many differing opinions. This is also often a country of extremes. It sometimes feels that "either you are for it or against it" as our current president has enjoyed using against us and other countries. But we should not cater to this "either or" attitude.

So, what can we do?

Our role is to be vigilant and to continue the following:

  1. Show yourself. We need to continue showing the world that we are multilingual too. We need to be proud of our multiple languages and to not feel we should hide who we are. Don't stop speaking Spanish or French or Arabic or Hindi with your child when you are on public transportation. Continue speaking your language despite what others may think and say. Don't overdo it but also don't change what you already do naturally out of a concern about the reaction of others.

  2. Help to gently educate. It won't help if we force our multilingualism down everyone's throats. As the saying goes, "You can catch more flies with honey." Explain to others why we are multilingual and the benefits that it has overall. If someone says something to you on the bus such as, "Why don't you learn English!" then take a deep breath and create an image in your mind of how frightened they feel and how you threaten them through your being different. Then calmly say, "Actually, I can speak English. However, I have chosen to raise my child bilingually in Spanish AND English. Have you heard about the benefits to the brain that bilingualism can provide?" Then leave it at that. If they become belligerent, move to another seat or ignore them.

  3. Stand up for your multilingualism. Don't let institutions make you feel small about your multilingualism or make you feel like what you are doing is wrong. When you enroll your child in school, make sure the school understands the details of your child's multilingualism and how you are delighted to work with his or her teachers to bridge any gaps that may exist. Foster an understanding in the institutions where it really matters.

  4. Emit inspiration. Be a beacon for the world of multilingualism through your joy and connectedness to your language and culture. Your enthusiasm for your language and cultural mix will rub off on others even without you having to make an effort.

Remember that although there are Newt Gingrichs in this country, there are also Maya Lins and Richard Rodriguezes! Multilinguals DO outnumber monolinguals in this world (even if not yet in the US). It shouldn't be a surprise that people are a little nervous about us. So, let's have compassion but let's not accept their delineations of who we are. And, for goodness sake, we should be helping people out of ghettos, not putting more into them, even if only figuratively!

Think the rest of the U.S. is behind us in our effort to raise our children bilingually, or that they even understand what the terms "bilingualism" and "bilingual education" really mean? Well, perhaps but just barely if you take the poll listed on the left of the CNN article. Last I looked, when asked "Do you agree with Newt Gingrich that bilingual education teaches "the language of living in a ghetto"? only 56% said no. I'm not sure what that means in the whole scheme of things. I'm sure it is more complex than what it seems at face value but it basically tells me that there is a lot of education that needs to happen in this country!