Tuesday, October 14, 2014

This blog is now a collaborative effort between Marie Nubia-Feliciano and I, Cristina G. Versteegh. Marie Nubia is an Adjunct Faculty and Ph. D Candidate at Chapman University, a friend, a mom of trilingual kids, and an advocate of language and heritage. Together, and every month, we'll discuss topics abut language, education, curriculum, policies, and such. Stay tuned!

"Giving a child a new language is the greatest gift you can give him, because it will change their life forever.” 
Paula Bendfeldt-Dias.

Marie Nubia-Feliciano: For me, language is a medium for understanding my own personal experiences, and my choice to raise my children to be trilingual (English, Spanish, and Dutch). When I first came from Puerto Rico, I only spoke Spanish and it took me four years to become bilingual. This seems like a long time, which it is, but I hesitated practicing my English because the school environment was not very friendly to non-English speakers. From this experience, I realized that I needed to make sure my children were literate in more than one language from the very beginning. The future they will inherit is uncertain, but one certainty is that it will be a world that requires an understanding of, and sensitivity to, more than one language and culture. The ability to understand at the deepest human level people from other cultures gives you access to another lens through which to understand your world. It fosters in you sensitivity for the difficulties of learning another language. In the United States, where second language learning is seen as something you do if you have time or money, there is a lack of understanding of how difficult it is to learn another language. English is a language that our children must become proficient in to some extent. But learning another language brings them beyond proficient. Knowing more than one language helps keep your brain healthy and your consciousness attuned to the rhythms of the human experience. In my humble opinion, this is vital in order to be engaged global citizens. At the very least it will help you ask where the bathroom is.
Children especially are in a perfect position to acquire language with little resistance. Knowing more than one language is considered by many the literacy of the 21st century. It allows us to connect at a deep level with many more people around the world. This ability to connect across boundaries, this ability to relate to people on their own terms, is the greatest gift that humanity can give itself. It provides a means with which to resolve conflict, come to compromises, develop compassion, and encourage innovation. Helping a child to learn more than one language not only benefits the child, but benefits the world.

Cristina Garcia-Versteegh: Unarguably, all of us have been given the skill to communicate. Whether we use words, actions, pictures, or facial gestures, those are things innate to us and determined by our upbringing. That is what is known as our first language or our mother tongue. Mother tongue is the language learned first and is the language in which we establish our first long-lasting verbal and even non-verbal contacts. Some people are very lucky to be born in geographically diverse environments (not me) therefore, they grow to be equally fluent in 2 or more languages (not me either). They need the languages to be perfectly functional in whatever environment they happen to be. The languages they learn can be main languages or local languages (dialects), however, what really matters is not the language being spoken, although it's important, but rather what goes on in the mind of the person that is able to interact in 2 or more languages. Truly, the minds of bilinguals and trilinguals are worked twice or three times as much, as they are constantly code-switching, assessing situations, adjusting themselves to new environments, filtering distracting situations as I learned from Marie, solving problems, interpreting in different ways, and more. This all provides for a very flexible, capable mind.

I had the fortune to be born in a great country with great people, great food, and coffee, but the misfortune to only acquire the only language everybody spoke: Spanish. I didn't lack anything, but didn’t have extra things either like music, dance, or language classes. I didn’t have access to things that were not already offered in my school. I read a lot though (a value my dad passed down to me) and came across books written in a language I didn’t understand at all. This aroused my curiosity. Then I thought: “What is it? Is it possible that not everybody in the world speaks my language? When I travel the world, how am I going to communicate with somebody if I don’t know their language?” It was a devastating moment for me. Learning another language became my obsession and did all I could to self-teach it. It wasn’t easy, still it isn’t easy! I can’t get over the fact that I’ll never sound like a native English or French speaker (which I started learning in College) and that I won’t get the cultural things (jokes, slang, idiosyncrasies)  as easily as a native speaker. I just won’t. Why? Simple: because it wasn’t my mother tongue, and because I wasn’t fortunate enough to acquire it during the “crucial years” (from birth to about 8 years old).

I could finally come to terms with this crude reality of mine, doing the only thing I could do. I turned to my son and I gave him not only 1 language, but two (and a half technically) and he does better than me. I am proud of that! He, from a very young age, has been a bridge between cultures decoding the world everywhere he goes, associating things, crashing language and racial barriers, and solving problems. He is doing big things as well as little things with his ability. Little things like mathematical operations in a split second in two languages. This blows my mind because I can’t multiply or divide in English to save my life. I irremediably fall back on my first language. My gift and my legacy to my son are profound love and respect for other languages and cultures. The best is, it doesn’t cost anything because I just do it by speaking with him. I know he’ll do great things with his language ability and will continue learning. He will influence and connect with other people, be compassionate toward their needs because he understands them, and in that way, change his life and the world wherever he goes one step at a time.


Wednesday, May 8, 2013

A Magical Encounter With Reading!

I guess I’m old school. I love the smell of books and the sensation of holding one and not wanting to put it down. One of the things that make me happy is being able to carve time out of my busy schedule to immerse myself into the books of a family owned bookstore close to work. I’m always looking for pieces of world literature that not many people seem to care about anymore, but this time, I came across a book that called my attention. It is called 99 Ways to Get Kids to Love Reading” by Mary Leonhardt. It looked interesting to me as I never thought I’d come across a manual or a list of bullet points on what to do when helping kids to enjoy reading.  As strange as it sounds, to me, reading is a feeling, like the sensation when you eat the best food you’ve ever tried, and describing that sensation with accurate words becomes a challenge.  You can try, but there are things you just feel and taste, but cannot explain. Then, it occurred to me that reading is much like a recipe.  For reading to become that unexplainable sensation, a series of methodically and strategically designed and chosen steps and ingredients have to be followed  and used, so that reading can be seen as a wonderful, delicious, and magical thing.

When growing up I had the privilege to have a father who was, and still is, an avid reader and it was him who nurtured my love for reading. He never said anything to me about the importance of reading, I just saw how much fun he enjoyed reading and solving newspaper puzzles. That doesn’t mean that if your kids don’t see you reading, your children won’t be readers either, but if you want to change that pattern, there are many things you can try.

It’s obvious that in a book titled “99 Ways to Get Kids to Love Reading”, I was going to find 99 pieces of great advice. However, it will be too many items to list here, so I took the liberty to summarize or choose the best ones in my opinion.

- A love for reading is a love for learning so resolve that a love of reading will be your important educational goal, not life goal, for your children. Then, reading is one among all the activities your kids do, it can’t be the only one. Too much reading or no reading at all could be a problem.

- Don’t worry about making your children read only “good” books. Therefore, sit back and enjoy the ride as any reading counts.

- While movies can desensitize us to violence, books sensitize us, so don’t worry that books containing violence will produce violent kids. Sensitivity is one of the values that America has lost, but we can restore it in our children through reading.

- Take your children to bookstores and libraries as often as you can, and allow them to browse and buy their favorite books.

- Make read-aloud time fun for your child and eventually, have your child read out loud to you as this helps them use their creativity.

- If your children are watching lots of television and doing little reading, consider restricting television, or banning it altogether (They won’t miss out on anything anyway).

- If they request a book that you know it’s too difficult, buy it for them anyway. As long as they love the book, leave them alone. You’ll see they’ll read it no matter what.

- Be careful that you don’t schedule so many activities for your children that they have little time to read.

- It’s important that fathers spend time reading to boys, and helping them find books. Boys need to see that reading is a cool, masculine thing to do.

- Keep a supply of magazines, comics, and short books in the car. I do it myself and my child and I love it!

- Pay attention to your children’s developing reading taste and simply, supply the demand.

- Praise teachers and schools that are trying to run classrooms that nurture readers.

- Lastly, and given the world we live in, there’s nothing like the smell of a book or turning the pages of one, but if you think all your kids know is reading on ipads, tablets, or nooks, make sure they’re actually reading, not playing.

I hope this list is as helpful to you as it was for me. Please feel free to reach out to me if you have any questions or to ask for a list of books that the author or I recommend for your child’s taste and age and finally, a quote for you “A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies, said Jojen. The man who never reads lives only one” George R.R. Martin.

Monday, February 11, 2013

It's Beautiful to be Bilingual

I­­fdn a recent panel of experts at an Immersion school in LA, the topics of language immersion and language acquisition were the center of the discussion. The fact that language acquisition is not only important, but also necessary for our children could not be emphasized enough and if you know me, ( a huge advocate for languages), you will know I was “En mi salsa” (Idiom in Spanish that means I felt happy diving into a topic that not only interests me but I’m passionate about). So much so, I think I didn't even blink the entire time! I truly wanted to take everything in…and I did! It’s hard to summarize the wealth of information I received, but I’ll try to do my best here:

1.   Speaking another language is a very powerful thing and the best way to end class inequality (People want to turn a blind eye to this or think there’s no such a thing, but it does exist). The world is getting smaller day after day, and only those who are well equipped can help build strong bridges among cultures.

2.   Our infants are the citizens of not only this country but the world. They have an amazing, intact, and well-functioning brain that continuously adapts without any awareness. The older we get, the less flexible our brains get. The key years for language acquisition are from birth to 7 years old. During those years, kids separate out information (without getting confused!!) and their “affective filter” is low. The affective filter has to do with mistake awareness and embarrassment in front of peers. If this filter is low, language acquisition is very likely to take place.

3.  Immersion programs are often misunderstood. People tend to look only at school scores without realizing that the possibility of getting a good score in grades K-5th is very slim, as kids are being taught in another language and tested in English. However, as time goes by, because the intensity of the foreign language goes down (not needed anymore so much) and because the skills in one language are easily transferable to the other, kids actually outscore the kids in monolingual programs. They end up having two huge linguistic skills rather than one, not to mention the other skills they get along the way (math, reading, and problem resolution to name a few).

4.     Last but not least…it's so beautiful to be bilingual, biliterate, and bicultural!
This information applies to any foreign language. As you know, LangoKids Irvine is an after-school immersion program. We offer Spanish, French, and Mandarin Chinese. You are taking a big step by deciding to bring your kids to us, however, if you know of a program that offers what we do for an entire day, that’s truly the best deal and the best thing you can do for your child! We guide you in that process too. Here is another scenario... English “is in the air”. If your child goes through an immersion program already, he’ll learn English (and how to read it and write it perfectly) no matter what! Then, why not coming to us for a third language? Kids can pick up five languages by the age of five if the right input and conditions are in place. Whatever situation you’re in, when it comes to your child’s language acquisition and learning, we are here to help!

If you speak Spanish to your kids (or any other language for that matter) kudos to you! Here there's more info for you from a group of professional moms who happily see their kids grow bilingual, biliterate, and bicultural and would not change it for anything: www.spanglishbaby.com

Cristina G. Versteegh and the LangoKids Irvine Team

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

The Magic of Immersion Programs

I struggled with the idea of language acquisition for my step-son. Based on research and my personal expertise, I know that different from other activities for kids, there's only one optimal time for language acquisition in kids, which is when they are basically born or (even before) up to 7 years old. My husband and I were decided to leave the country for a few months and give him the exposure he needed to be a perfect English-Spanish speaker. It was a race between the ticking clock, and his regular school where he was taught in English. It all changed when a client of mine (how ironic) told me about the Spanish Immersion School my son now goes to. The Spanish I used with my son was limited by our time constraints and no matter what we did, I thought I could not get him to the point I wanted him to be, or he had to be by the age of 5. Well, our lives have basically changed as now we have a team supporting us to raise our bilingual son, and what a team!!

Kids have an amazing potential to absorb languages naturally and really, not exposing them to another language is not only wasting all that potential, but also, closing lots of doors for them in the future. English is in the air as I tell everybody, so why not giving them something different? Something that is not so easy to access and in doing so, giving them the key to greater success? Ralph Gates Elementary School in Lake Forest has given us the chance to speed up the process now that my son is 6 and also has given me lots of reasons to believe that great education is still possible (I personally find the American educational system very disappointing I have to say).

At LangoKids Irvine we want to support language immersion schools as they are our big brothers. We've seen a lot of parents who already attend these schools coming to us for an additional language, to which I have to say...Way to Go! If knowing two languages is a plus, imagine what a third language can do for your child. Parents that take their kids to any immersion school in OC get a 10% tuition discount with us. If you have a child and dream with seeing him/her speak more than one language, take action now and learn about all the options available in your area. This week, meet the great group of people that make language acquisition and learning possible in the Saddleback district by attending the following event: http://oclatinolink.ocregister.com/2012/02/06/saddleback-parents-can-learn-about-two-way-immersion-program-feb-8/ Believe me, you'll love what you'll see!
See you there!

 If you are looking for language classes and camps for your kids, check us out at www.langokidsirvine.com

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Have you ever thought of the windows of opportunity you can open to your kids when they acquire a foreign language?

The benefits are rewarding and endless indeed. Many experts agree that the earlier a child is introduced to a second language, the greater the chances are the child becomes truly proficient in the language and develops a native-like accent. Also, kids exposed to another language improve their overall performance at school, problem-solving skills, and scores in standardized tests. Acquiring a foreign language opens children’s minds and creates an early appreciation and respect towards other cultures; it enhances the child’s English ability (believe it or not), and will ultimately guarantee additional career possibilities. At LangoKids Irvine, we work with our kids' capacity to "acquire" (not learning), which is only possible between birth and 8 years old. At the age of 8 and up, the process that takes place is called "Language Learning" which is a bit more difficult, less natural, and it takes more time. Don't wait any longer; let us have the pleasure to do the most we can while the window of opportunity is open and make a difference in your and your children's lives!
At LangoKids Irvine, we believe every child should and can acquire a foreign language and we welcome Everybody:  
  • Multilingual or Spanish, French, or Mandarin-speaking families seeking support in speaking a target language with children outside the home and with other children. We also support the kids that already speak the language and are ready to explore language functionality through fun grammar lessons. 
  • Families with little or no Spanish, French, or Mandarin language skills seeking exposure to language through immersion.
  • Educators of schools and daycare centers looking to provide a dynamic, play-based, and year-round Spanish, French, or Mandarin program for their students and families.
  • Children everywhere who show fascination for other languages and cultures!