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10 popular beliefs on bilingualism and bilingual education

There are still many beliefs and cliches about bilingual education and bilingualism. This argument deconstructs the 10 most popular beliefs.

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1. Monolingualism is the norm and bilingualism is the exception.

Not true. We estimate that more than half the people on the planet are bilingual and 40% speak more than one language on a daily basis. Bilingualism is a phenomenon that exists throughout the world, on all continents and in the majority of countries. There are different ways of being or becoming bilingual: plurilingual family situation, living near a border, schooling in foreign language, working abroad, etc.

2. Being bilingual means mastering two languages and two cultures.

Mastery of two languages is rarely perfect and balanced. We estimate that only 20% of bilinguals are as at ease with one language as they are with the other. Being bilingual is first and foremost about being able to communicate easily in two languages, and being able to switch between languages depending on the situation and the tasks at hand: bilingual people develop and use their languages in different and varied social contexts, for distinct purposes. What’s more, we can speak a language without actually knowing and mastering all of the cultural values and practices associated with it: a bilingual person is not strictly bicultural.

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3. You will never be bilingual if you learn a second language too late in life.

There is no age limit when it comes to learning another language. The quality of exposure to the language and its teaching, along with motivation, are essential to successful learning. If an adult can learn quicker than a child, he or she will, however, find it more difficult to lose their accent.

4. One language must be mastered before learning another.

Mastering one language is an illusion, as we continue to learn it throughout our lives. Nevertheless, it is beneficial to be able to rely on past achievements in your primary language to develop skills in another language. In the same way, studying another language enriches the knowledge and mastery of the primary language.

5. A child who has a bilingual education must have at least one bilingual parent.

Bilingual teaching applies to all children. It is an educational device and not a school that is just for children from bilingual families. The academic success of children who attend bilingual institutions therefore does not depend on the linguistic skills of their parents. However, if they have the benefit of being exposed to the language outside of school, it means that their learning is enriched and consolidated.

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6. You have to be a good student to undergo bilingual education.

Whether or not certain bilingual educational institutions decide to select only the best students, bilingual education applies to all children without discrimination. All students find added value in bilingual education, regardless of their level of learning. Switching to another teaching language can even sometimes help to relieve educational difficulties and encourage better learning.

7. The use of different languages must be avoided in the classroom.

On the contrary, bilingualism can complement the development of both languages: the teacher can then build on this observation to develop adapted teaching strategies, taking the linguistic level of students into account. Alternating languages from one activity to the next and exchanging points of view by comparing ideas and documents in the original language encourages reflection, memorisation or even conceptualisation.

8. You can’t study a subject correctly in a foreign language (history, mathematics, sciences, etc.) without mastering this language.

Not true, it all depends on the strategies adopted by the teacher, who must take the linguistic level of students into account. With beginners, for example, it is fluent and efficient to deliberately draw on the students’ native language. Additionally, studying a subject in a foreign language allows students greater and different practice of this language, and to be enriched by it.

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9. Educating a child in two languages increases the risks of difficulties in their learning.

Bilingual children have no greater difficulty in learning than monolingual children. The only situation that could lead to a bilingual child having difficulty in their learning is if they have not sufficiently mastered any of the languages before starting school.

10. The benefits of a bilingual education are purely linguistic.

Bilingual education allows students to deepen their knowledge of languages and cultures associated with them, which invites them to think and understand the world differently. Furthermore, it motivates students by offering an authentic and dynamic linguistic practice within the framework of different academic disciplines. By approximating language and knowledge, we encourage students to exercise mental flexibility, which translates to being better able to resolve problems in various situations, as well as making them more selfsufficient.

Source: Centre International d’Etudes Pédagogiques – www.ciep.fr

 

comptines enfants chinoise

Six songs to improve your children’s Mandarin learning

Dear parents, did you sing “if you are happy and you know it” or “Jingle bells” with your children, when they first started learning English? Well, what if they’re learning Mandarin and feel like singing? Here are six songs for different age groups. Let’s sing together!

 

For 3-6 years old

Sounds from animals 动物的叫声

 

Easy catchy melody, easy vocabulary, super simple but useful sentences.

 

This song not only teaches your kids about animals, but also the sounds they make in Chinese! (Yes, the animals’ sounds are different in Chinese than in English) It will also help them learn some basic verbs such as walk (走), swim (游) and roll (滚), too.

 

Two tigers 两只老虎

 

Every country has its own version of this song. Every child knows the melody!

It’s interesting for kids to learn and sing a version of the same song in another language, plus the lyrics are really funny: one tiger has no ears, another tiger has no tail…

It’s nonsense, but kids don’t care! Trust us, once they’ve learned this song, they’ll never forget it.

 

For 6-9 years old

 

Where is my friend? 朋友在哪里

 

Beautiful and easy melody, contains numbers, and some basic everyday vocabulary and simple question structure.

 

White little bunny 小白兔白又白

 

Every Chinese child knows this song. It’s extremely catchy and popular in China.

It’s a song children sing with their grandparents, parents, kindergarten classmates and anybody you can think of.

It contains easy vocabulary like white bunny, ears, carrot, vegetables, etc.

Having learned this song, your kid will share a “universal language and topic” with Chinese kids. The adults will be impressed too!

 

For 9 years old and above

 

Counting ducks 数鸭子

 

You may know how to count 12345 in Chinese, but how about when the number are not in order? “Counting ducks” gives you a good blend of easy and advanced expressions for numbers in Chinese.

 

The yellow bird 黄鹂鸟

 

Is this a song, or a funny joke? No one can tell. But we know it has an absolutely beautiful melody with funny words that contain some advanced vocabulary and expressions.

Once your kids understand the meaning of the lyrics, they will laugh and love this song for sure.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

future-of-education

The Future of Education: what will Education look like in 2025?

According to the professionals who participated in the new 2025 Education Innovation Survey Report *, in 2025 the key methods of engaging with material and content will evolve to be real-time video collaboration and mobile devices. What are the 5 key trends for the future of education? VivaLing would like to share the main takeaways of this report with you.

 

future-of-education

 

  • The ability to learn anywhere and at any time

Accessibility for all those who want to learn is considered to be the most important factor in the future of education success. Schoolprofessionals from around the globe (25%) ranked accessibility above all other factors; this view was most pronounced in respondents from the UK (31%). In the context of education, accessibility refers to the geographical aspect: that distance is overcome in order to deliver education to where it is needed. Convenient access to education is also factored in: that students and professionals have the ability to learn anywhere and at any time.

  • Real-time video collaboration with real teachers

67% of school professionals consider the focal point of education delivery to be the teachers and lecturers themselves.  However, the use of remote learning technologies in teaching is expected to rise significantly: 53% of professionals believe real-time video collaboration and mobile devices will be the primary way students engage with content by 2025. Despite this shift, many professionals still believe that the teachers and lecturers will continue to play an important mentoring role in 2025.

By allowing an engaging, accessible, and cost-effective approach to education, technology opens up the prospect of higher education, personalized courses, and teacher-training to a much broader population.”

  • Improving the quality of teacher-learning, and personalized and contextual learning should be the main focus

A majority of teaching professionals across the globe are convinced that the main focus, after deregulation and revised compliance standards, should be on improving the quality of teacher learning. Those in North America (18%) and in India (21%) feel that the creation of a more personalized and contextual learning would also be worth focusing on.

 

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  • More online access to education materials

According to 47% of the people interviewed (the majority being from North America and the UK) online access to content and lectures is what students and parents are demanding more of, from the   institutions.

  • More resource sharing online and self-learning for teachers

In 2025, resource sharing via online channels will better facilitate teachers’ professional development. School professionals see teachers sharing resources within online environments and becoming more independent in identifying their own professional learning needs.

NB: This survey covers mainly North America, United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand and India. The rest of Asia is not covered.  However the trend towards online education in Asia is much stronger, especially in China.

* 2025 Education Innovation Survey Report by Polycom. More than 1,800 people from a range of professions within the education industry participated in the survey, with more than 80% above the age of 30. The majority of response comes from North America, United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand and India. The majority of participants were management and c-suite (26%), educators (47%) and those in administrative roles (27%).

http://www.polycom.com.au/forms/education-2025-thankyou.html

 

Back-To-School-Picture

6 Essential Back-to-School Tips

6 Essential Back-to-School Tips

That’s it- holiday time is over and the carefree days of summer have come to an end. For many, September is synonymous with stress and apprehension: children have to make new friends and meet new teachers while parents struggle to coordinate new routines, to manage a myriad of activities within the limitations of a timetable. VivaLing would like to help you to approach this time of the year with confidence and serenity, by offering you 6 tips.

Back-To-School-Picture

  •  Get everyone to bed on time.

During the summer, your child’s bedtimes are understandably variable. However, proper rest is essential for a healthy and productive school year. Help your kids get back on track sleep-wise, by having them go to bed earlier and wake up earlier at least a week in advance of the new school year.

  •  Get to know new teachers. 

There will be open days, orientation meetings, and other meet-and-greet options at the beginning of the school year, but none of these will give you the chance to spend some quality time getting to know your kids’ teachers. Try to find a few minutes before or after school to connect one-on-one with the teachers or at the very least, send an introductory email outlining how you can help during the year, in however big or small a capacity.

  •   Make homework a special moment.

 Within your child’s schedule, plan a daily slot for their homework. Set aside a quiet and comfortable place in the house where he can work, (a bedroom, a study etc.) and equip it with all the necessary study supplies: pen refills, paper, notebooks.  A special time and a special place for homework will help to ensure that your child remains motivated and works well throughout the year.

  •  Plan a daily reading time.

Reading is a key factor in academic success: it enriches your child’s spoken and written vocabulary. It develops your child’s imagination, stimulating creativity and enhancing his inner world. It is also a unique moment that allows you to explore possibilities and go on new adventures together. Try to spend 20 minutes reading with your child every day.  He will savour the pleasure of this intimacy even into adulthood.

  •  Encourage and motivate.

The beginning of every school year poses a new challenge for your child. Whatever the past results have been, let your child know that you support and believe in him throughout the months to come. Encourage your child to do his best, play down failures and remind him that he can always count on you for help.

  •  Choose the right activities.

Each child has different tastes and abilities. Take the time, early on, to sit down with your child and understand his needs and requests. Work out what can reasonably be fit into his schedule. Learning a new foreign language is one activity that will provide your child a tremendous asset in the future, both personally and professionally. VivaLing offers you the possibility of giving this wonderful gift to your child. Totally customized, interactive lessons with a qualified and experienced tutor provide the optimum conditions for a new language to flourish and your child doesn’t even have to leave the comfort of his home!

AEDI Synapses function of age

Why children learn better: science is shedding light

The man on the street has noticed it and science has confirmed it: children are more able to learn foreign languages and achieve high proficiency than adults. What are the reasons? All else being equal, neurology and psychology will provide us with the answers.

Neurological explanations address the state of the brain and its ability to carry out a given task at a certain stage of its development. Several hypotheses were explored as early as the 60ies. One dealt with brain maturation: the brain was thought to be like a slate of clay which, once carved with the mother tongue, could neither be erased nor re-written nor complemented by a foreign language. Another explanation, focusing on native language interference, claimed that once the mother tongue had been acquired, the learning mechanism itself was completely dismantled in order to reallocate neural tissues – a scarce resource – to other tasks. It is known today that some of these extreme explanations are wrong and others, incomplete and oversimplifying.

However, other age-related phenomena affecting foreign language learning are now much better known. The first one is the decrease of brain plasticity over time. Brain plasticity, also known as neuroplasticity, refers to the changes in neural pathways brought about by environmental or experiential stimuli. Each new learning (be it knowledge or skill) triggers new brain circuitry creation so as to transfer and process the information. Conversely, unused connections are disposed of in order to optimize the brain functioning and performance. At birth, each neuron (and there are about 100 billion of them) has 2500 synapses enabling neural connections. At age 2-3, the number of synapses per neuron increases to … 15000, that is to say twice the average adult number. In fact, by neural pruning, synaptic density progressively decreases from mid-childhood and teenagehood onwards, at a pace specific to each brain area. In addition, myelination (the sheathing of axons) reinforces the effectiveness of existing neural connections but is detrimental to the brain’s flexibility to set up new neural pathways. Specialization of brain areas to specific and precise functions carries on. Neuroplasticity inexorably decreases with brain maturation. Processes like language learning enjoy a privileged window of opportunity after basic sensory functions and before higher cognitive functions.

Hensch - Brain plasticity

Based on brain plasticity, learning goes through successive sensitive periods focused on: senses during early childhood, language and motor functions during childhood, and later higher cognitive functions (maths, critical thinking, etc…) (credit : adapted from Hensch, 2005, Nature Reviews Neuroscience)

 

David Birdsong, one of the current leading researchers on effects of age of acquisition, identifies other sources as well. Firstly, the widespread decline of cognitive capabilities with age is a regular phenomenon that does not spare language learning. Secondly, interference of the native tongue probably increases with age – age being a proxy of usage of this language. Last, according to psycho-linguists, Chomsky’s Language Acquisition Device –giving access to Universal Grammar –, or any other language-specific acquisition mechanism, seems to disappear with age.

Socio-psychological reasons are completely different in nature but no less significant. Children do not feel embarrassed by novelty, since everything is new and consequently nothing is really abnormal. New sounds, even when very different from the mother tongue’s, are not frightening. Children utter them convincingly whereas adults might hesitate to stress them as strongly – they are so “weird”! More importantly still, children will not shy away from trying even if not completely sure, from having a go even if they are mistaken and must start again. Besides, other children will not be critical of the mistakes, at least not in the same proportions. As for adults, they might fear that their social status – which comes across so naturally in their mother tongue – could be degraded by an incomplete command of the other language. To make a long story short, social self-awareness sometimes plays against language learning by adults.

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Regardless of the quality of the learning environment – this topic will be addressed at a later stage –, children are more able to learn foreign languages  than adults  because of neurological and socio-psychological reasons. This is why one should make the most of sensitive period of childhood – it is so favourable !

Double-pendulum-trajectory-credit-Georgia-Ahimsa-Williams

Chaos inside my child’s second language – should I worry ?

Have you ever felt disconcerted by the unpredictable and chaotic progress of your child’s second language acquisition ? Dazzling progress seems to be followed by periods of slower growth, sometimes even laborious, not to mention times of regression. She seemed to master this notion, and all of a sudden she stumbles where she never would have in the past. Why does he now treat this irregular verb as a regular one ? And why does she no longer pick up any of these expressions that were so obvious to her previously ? But there are more twists to the story : soon afterwards, he will surprise you by unexpected expressions that will amaze you again.

Second language acquisition is as chaotic as, for example, the weather. Do you remember the butterfly imagined by Lorenz which modified the weather in Dallas by flapping its wings in Tokyo ? A seemingly trivial and barely perceptible action could have considerable consequences in a totally unpredictable fashion and far from where it originated. Even the simplest of complex systems, the double pendulum (or pendulum with two degrees of freedom) behaves in a way which is extremely hard to anticipate. Not that proper equations do not exist, but the system is so sensitive that any dynamic forecast becomes impossible. Look at the movement of the red ball of the double pendulum variant shown below when the main pendulum is made to swing. Forecasting its trajectory is just impossible.

 

Language learning is itself a complex process. It is remarkably well described by the Dynamic Systems Theory (DST) that was first introduced to linguistics less than twenty years ago. Second language acquisition depends indeed on a large number of cognitive and social variables : quantity of language input and output, feedback, the learner’s intrinsic or extrinsic motivation, the learner’s interactions with individuals, groups, or surrounding society, the learner’s first and second language knowledge, learning history and duration … and the list continues. These variables are not only numerous but also interconnected through rich and complex dynamics.

Learning is highly non-linear : the effects are not proportional to the forces applied. Consider now hiking as a metaphor for a linguistic journey. During the hike milestones will be crossed and left behind one after the other. As for language learning outcomes, they are not a nice orderly series of elements mastered one after the other. They are a dynamic set, the components of which sometimes overlap, scattered over a large “learning” surface area filled with pitfalls hard to avoid and overcome, or mountains hard to climb. Each new learning stage is the result of combined variables and influences applied to the previous stage. Lastly, the learning journey is closely linked to the child’s neurological, physiological and psychological starting point.

Are you now convinced ? The fine path of Second Language Acquisition is by and large unpredictable. In the case of children, however, the end state is statistically more likely to be a good command of the language. Chaos by itself is therefore not to be feared, but tamed. The key point to remember for the educator, as is well known, is to customize the teaching to the largest extent possible to the learner, their history, their present state ; to react with the utmost attention to each development and to guide them towards their ultimate objective. The main take away for the learner and their family is, once the right educator is found, to never get discouraged and conversely to always persevere. This is what you are already doing, isn’t it ? This will lead your child from chaos to actual learning, from struggle to success.

 

For more details :

De Bot, K., Lowie, W. & Verspoor, M. (2007). A dynamic systems theory approach to second language acquisition. Bilingualism : Language and Cognition, 10(1), 2007, 7-21.

 

 

Portrait of smart schoolgirls and schoolboys looking at the laptop in classroom

Will your child forget a language learnt in his early childhood?

Portrait of smart schoolgirls and schoolboys looking at the laptop in classroom

What will be left? This is the recurring – and a little anxious – question being asked by parents about the languages learned by their children during infancy or early childhood, especially when these languages are not practiced thereafter.

We already wrote a blog post on this topic that many of you read. The conclusion, based on a study of C. Landing from 2003, seemed clear: a language learned in childhood can be forgotten as quickly as it is learned if it is not used or at least kept after puberty.

And yet, the fine interpretation of the results of this study has been questioned by many other publications. At the end of 2014, J. Pierce of McGill University in Canada demonstrated for the first time that the neural representation of a language acquired in early childhood was firmly rooted in the brain, even if the subject had no conscious memory of that language after having no exposure at all for a long time.

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The demonstration was made with Chinese orphans adopted at the age of 13 months by French families, and completely cut off from their original language. 12 years later, although they had no conscious memory of their language, their brains responded to the tonal system of the Chinese language just as Chinese native speakers. Indeed, while listening to phonemes pronounced with different tones, their brain was using language centres located in the left hemisphere. In comparison, a control group of French children was using acoustic processing functions able to analyse non-linguistic complex signals in the right hemisphere of their brain.

Is having a brain that seems to keep memories of a past language of which the subject has no conscious recollection really useful? Yes, as Leher Singh from the National University of Singapore wrote in 2011. She was also interested in orphans, this time from the Indian subcontinent, adopted in their infancy by American families and completely cut off from their original language. Indian languages contain phonetic contrasts on “t” and “d” that are imperceptible to the ears of Americans. Many years after their change of continent, these little adopted children didn’t seem to be able to perceive these contrasts. At least initially. However, after one month of exposure, the adopted children had made considerable progress in the discrimination of these sounds, in comparison to a control group of young Americans.

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So here is what science teaches us to date:
• around the age of one year, the infant’s brain loses forever the ability to discriminate sounds (consonants, vowels, tones) absent from its own language or its linguistic environment. To perceive contrasts from other languages, a child must be exposed to them during this critical “Phonetic period,” around the age of one year.
• Not being exposed to the language of origin does not mean that this language will be completely forgotten. Its traces remain unconscious, neurologically, which significantly facilitate the learning.

Consequently, one should not hesitate to expose his child to one or more target languages while still a baby, even if these languages are not used immediately or intended to be relearned later. This is an investment that can be made only at this critical period of life. Almost all parents ignore that. Not you.

For more information:

Lara J. Pierce, Denise Klein, Jen-Kai Chenc, Audrey Delcenseried, Geneseea and Fred (2015). Mapping the unconscious maintenance of a lost first language. PNAS, 112, February 2015.

Leher Singh, Jacqueline Liederman, Mierzejewski Robyn and Jonathan Barnes (2011). Rapid reacquisition of native phoneme contrasts after-disuse: you do not always lose what you do not use. Journal of Developmental Science. 14(5), 949-959.

Pallier C, et al. (2003). Brain imaging of language plasticity in adopted adults: Can a second language replace the first? Cereb Cortex 13 (2), 155-161.

Schoolgirl researching online

7 Tips to Help your Child Learn a New Language

Here are some tips to encourage and support your child in his learning journey. And you’ll see, you can do a lot to help!

Schoolgirl researching online

1- Show interest in your child’s Language learning experiences and encourage him or her to share them with you

2- Encourage your child to learn through meaningful language games

3- Read newspapers and books together, starting with books with attractive illustrations

4- Bring your child to the library or bookshops to cultivate a reading habit

5- Watch quality television programmes in the target language together

6- Make use of objects in your environment such as road signs and advertisements to engage your child in conversations in the target language

7-Build up your child’s confidence by not correcting his or her mistakes excessively

 

* Tips from “The new Chinese language curriculum for primary schools” by Singaporean MOE

ma

To read Chinese one must start early

In any written language, words are subject to a triple association: sound, spelling and of course meaning. For example, the English word horse refers to the working and racing animal, is pronounced /hɔː(ɹ)s/ and spelled h-o-r-s-e. Anyone knowing how to read will be able to pronounce the word relatively correctly even if they have never seen it in writing before, as English is written in the Latin alphabetical script.

As explained by S. Dehaene, the reading process takes place here through the so-called phonological route: graphemes are mechanically converted into phonemes without resorting to deeper semantic representations.

cheval

The situation is quite different when it comes to Chinese. All Chinese languages are written in the unified system of Chinese characters. These Chinese characters are pronounced differently in each of the languages of the Chinese linguistic branch, for instance in Mandarin, the most widespread. Non-Chinese speakers often claim that the mapping of a Chinese character and its pronunciation is completely arbitrary; therefore it is said to be impossible to pronounce a character, even when knowing its meaning, unless its pronunciation has been learnt by rote beforehand.

The reality is slightly more subtle. Indeed, it is often necessary to learn simultaneously a word’s character and its pronunciation. But it must be stressed that 80% to 90% of Chinese characters are actually compound characters. They often consist of at least two subcomponents: a phonetic root (there are about 200 of them) and a semantic root (there are about 1000 of them). The phonetic root, often on the right side of the compound character, may give clues as to the pronunciation of the character. The semantic root, often on the left, tells about the word’s meaning, or at least the lexical category it belongs to. For instance, the Chinese character for a horse is马in simplified Chinese, and is pronounced  (third tone) in Mandarin.

The word for mother is pronounced mā ma (ma is doubled, the first one is pronounced with the first tone); the compound character for each ma has the semantic root of woman on its left and the phonetic root of horse on its right.

ma ma English

In a paper dated 2007, Bao Guo Chen and colleagues proved that the more arbitrary the mapping between meaning and sound or spelling, the higher the effects of the Age of Acquisition (AoA) on Chinese reading (for native speakers). Characters acquired early would be read with ease; characters acquired at a later stage would be more difficult to read if the correspondence between writing and sound or spelling was difficult to predict.

In other words, the more difficult it is to deduct meaning and spelling by reading a character, the more detrimental late acquisition is to quality and speed of reading.

Thus, within Chinese language and for native speakers, the impact of the Age of Acquisition increases with the arbitrariness of the mapping between meaning, pronunciation and spelling. What is the situation for alphabetical languages? By definition, reading an alphabetical language gives a very valuable clue as to what the pronunciation is going to be*.

Taken as a whole, the Chinese language is significantly more arbitrary than alphabetical languages in terms of mapping from character to sound and meaning. One can therefore assume that for Chinese even more so than for other languages, there is benefit in learning the language early so as not to be negatively impacted by the enhanced effects of the Age of Acquisition on reading.

 

 

 

 

 

To learn more about Chinese learning :
Chen, B. G., Zhou, H. X., Dunlap, S. and Perfetti, C. A. (2007).Age of acquisition effects in reading Chinese: Evidence in favour of the arbitrary mapping hypothesis. British Journal of Psychology, 98: 499–516. doi: 10.1348/000712606X165484

Stanislas Dehaene (2007). Les neurones de la lectureEditions Odile Jacob

 

Note : * The situation varies quite significantly from language to language. Italian or Turkish, for instance, are very easy to pronounce when reading a text, while a given spelling in English can be read in multiple ways (refer for instance to  toughthroughthorough, etc…)

VivaLing - SLA Learning drivers for children

3 key drivers of second language acquisition for children

VivaLing-SLA-Learning-drivers-for-children

Take a child at any given stage of development. All else equal, three key drivers will determine the effectiveness of the child’s foreign language acquisition: quantity of language activities, motivation, and social interaction.

What is summarized here as language activities covers in fact several concepts, distinct but complementary, perfectly well introduced by Shumei Zhang (2009) of Dongguan University. These concepts are : input, output and feedback. Input describes the amount of target language that the learner is exposed to and that is processed by their brain. Input is indispensable, but not sufficient by itself. Feedback (sometimes called interaction) is necessary for the learner to grow aware of their mistakes and correct them. Last, output, or language produced by the learner, enables them, amongst others, to test their target language hypotheses and develop automaticity in language production. Our brain being “a supercomputer (…) equipped with powerful and rigorous statistical inference mechanisms”, as Stanislas Dehaene (2013), Professor at the College de France, puts it, input, feedback and output will be all the more effective as they come in large quantity and at the required level of quality.

It is thus necessary to speak abundantly to the child in the target language, if possible regularly, and with the right language level (that is to say without mistakes, in a way that is clear enough to be understood and sophisticated enough for the child to progress). The child must be strongly encouraged to speak in the target language, even if they have to take a leap of faith without any guarantee of success. Finally, one should not refrain from providing feedback to the child in case of mistake: it is not blaming or scolding but genuinely a necessary stage in the learning process.

 

L’input est indispensable à l’apprentissage de langue … mais pas suffisant

Input is indispensable for second language acquisition – but not sufficient by itself

Rebecca Oxford (1994), with the University of Alabama, mentions it: “research shows that motivation directly influences how often students use L2learning strategies, how much students interact with native speakers, how much input they receive in the language being learned (the target language), how well they do on curriculum-related achievement tests, how high their general proficiency level becomes, and how long they persevere and maintain L2 skills after language study is over”. Indeed, motivation is one of the most powerful language learning drivers. Motivation can make up for certain aptitude or quantity deficiencies; conversely, without motivation no learning can take place.

Typically, children will want to learn a language to integrate in their environment and have friends, or to succeed at exams; their motivation will be intrinsic, out of interest for the language or for the sake of achievement, or extrinsic, when driven with more or less success by their environment. Teachers play a pivotal role in their students’ motivation. Motivation also implies lack of demotivating factors. Parents, for instance, should not convey their own concerns towards a language that they think is too difficult; society should not make negative judgements on a language that is deemed inappropriate for one reason or the other.

 

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Motivation, a key driver for language learning, varies in nature and intensity from one individual to the other (credit termcoord.eu)

Social interaction is the third learning driver. There is a partial overlap with the previous two drivers: feedback is often given through a social interaction (and not by a machine), and motivation very often comes from someone’s positive action. But the phenomenon is much farther reaching. At the iLabs center at the University of Washington, Sarah Roseberry (2011) studied the linguistic learning of a group of 42 children aged below 3, in various experimental settings: first with an adult attending in person, then with an adult attending virtually through a Skype-like remote connection, last with an adult in a pre-recorded video.

The outcome is unambiguous: live adults, whether present in person or through an online connection, enable a similar level of learning whereas the pre-recorded video is much less impactful. Therefore, one can strongly question the pedagogical effectiveness, at least for infants and toddlers, of pre-recorded child programs, even when the main character asks a question and pretends to be waiting for the answer. The fact is that children are not fooled. For actual learning they need real social interaction wherein the other person effectively follows their gaze, reacts to their facial expressions and change of attitude, pausing or resuming, in a word to their behavioural and learning dynamics.

 

Les personnages de certains dessins animés populaires ne dupent pas les enfants, même lorsqu’ils posent une question et font semblant d’attendre une réponse

The characters of some popular cartoons do not fool children, even when they ask a question and pretend to be waiting for an answer.

For your child’s second language acquisition, make sure not to disregard any of the powerful learning drivers discussed above: quantity of language activities, motivation and social interaction.