Wednesday, February 18, 2009

My blog moved to

Please continue to follow my blog on the re-launched web site at See you there!

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Parents Want To Know: Can Learning Two Languages Cause Speech Delays?

I recently spoke to a wonderful group of mothers at a Big City Mom's lunch on the upper east side in New York. I have been speaking to moms groups in cities across the country, and one of the questions that has come up more than once is whether learning a second language causes speech delays.

Speaking to Metro Moms in Dallas, TX

As a mom, I am very sensitive to this issue - I know how eager I was for Emmett to speak once he began using a few words at age 18 months, and understand why mothers would be concerned about doing anything to delay speech in their children. There is widespread scientific research that proves that learning and/or exposing your child to a second language at an early age will not cause your child to speak English later or less well; that on the contrary, it is a boon. Yet because people used to think that there could be negative side effects to learning two languages as once, some people continue to think so. The fact is that babies, toddlers and preschoolers are actually able to learn up to three languages at once without confusion. Early foreign language exposure enhances a child’s primary language development, and his or her brain power. Experts have dismissed the idea that bilingualism can be confusing for a young child. “This idea was dramatically reversed in a landmark study by Elizabeth Peal and Wallace Lambert at McGill University in Montreal that showed a general superiority of bilinguals over monolinguals in a wide range of intelligence tests and aspects of school achievement” (Dr. Ellen Bialystok, Professor of Psychology at York University, Canada). Dr. Bialystok has even done studies that show that young children who speak a second language have a cognitive edge over monolingual children (click here to read article).

So go ahead and teach your little one "j'ai soif" or "tengo hambre" with confidence! You will be helping them to achieve a better accent and fluency later on and enhance their social and verbal skills.
To read more about the scientific studies supporting learning two languages go to

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

In 2009 a Majority of the World is Multi-Lingual...Shouldn’t your Kids Be?

I watched the inauguration yesterday and shared the renewed sense of hope so many of us felt, and was also reminded that we have a long way to go to repair our country domestically, and our standing internationally. Barack Obama has already generated a lot of good will abroad and thanks to his election, we are well-poised to regain a favorable position in world politics.

During his campaign Obama recognized the importance of children learning second languages as a way of bringing our world closer and making our children more competitive in the global marketplace. Then there is the "global humanplace" which is equally important. Obama himself was raised in several countries and exposed to at least three languages growing up. Below is an excerpt from one of his campaign speeches:

"We should have every child speaking more than one language." It's embarrassing when Europeans come over here, they all speak English, they speak French, they speak German. And then we go over to Europe and all we can say is 'merci beaucoup.' A foreign language is a powerful tool to becoming more employable in the global economy ... and children learn languages easier than adults.
– Barack Obama

In many countries outside the U.S. kids are learning several languages as a matter of course at an early age. While our school system does not introduce a second language until middle school, there are many things we can do to give our children the advantages of two or even three languages at an early age. Playing music, reading books and watching DVDs in other languages are all part of making another language and easy and enjoyable part of our children's brain food. Visit for tips on making language learning fun for your children.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Parents Want To Know: What language should I teach my child?

Many parents write in and ask me questions about foreign language learning, and so occasionally the blog will feature a question/answer. Today's question is "How do I decide what foreign language to teach my child?"

Maybe you are like many parents who know they want to start their child on a second language early but don’t know which to choose. The first thing you should know is that you can't go wrong. Whatever language you choose, starting your young child on the path to learning a foreign language paves the way for your child to have a good accent, to have the chance of being fluent, and makes it easier for them to learn whatever language they choose to study later on in life. You are giving them the foundation, and they will reap the benefits for a lifetime. A book that is great for introducing your child to the idea that different languages are spoken around the world is Babar's World Tour, where the French elephant Babar takes his family on a trip around the world and his children learn to say phrases in all the different languages.

To many people, the obvious answer to "which language?" in the U.S. is Spanish since it is spoken by over 34 million people in our country. However, this should not necessarily be the only determining factor in your choice. I find parents are more likely to reinforce the learning if they choose a second language to which at least one of the parents has some connection. If one of the parents is fluent in the language that is obviously an advantage, but is not necessary for the child to pick it up. Many moms write to tell me how fun it was for them to see that their high school Spanish or French came back to them while watching Little Pim (it beats singing "I love you" with Barney). Your child can always choose a different language later on; at this early phase, it's most important to give them the framework and a sense that learning and speaking a second language can be fun.

For people who want more concrete answers, here are the “official” Little Pim guidelines for choosing a language:
1) Pick a language you like, perhaps have always wanted to speak (even if it's not the most practical) and that you will enjoy hearing and practicing with your child.
2) Pick a language that you can reinforce easily through native speaking caretakers and or kids, local or international trips, live music and CDs or language classes.
3) Pick a language your partner/spouse/fellow caretakers agree(s) on and make a plan together for how to bring this language into your home through DVDs, music and in person speaking.
4) If your child is old enough (15 months +), try out the different languages and see which one he or she responds to most.

Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Penny is a French speaking polar bear

One of my son Emmett's favorite stuffed animals is a polar bear puppet we named Penny the Polar Bear. Penny, as she likes to be called, is one of my favorites too because she speaks French. I often put her on and talk to Emmett in French in a high "Penny" voice. He always plays along and answers her. So this morning we had a conversation that went something like this "Bonjour Emmett! Comment ca va?" (hello Emmett! How are you?"). Emmett said "très bien" (very good). Then he whispered to me so Penny couldn't hear, "How do you say the sun is coming up?" I reminded him he knows how to say sun ("le soleil") and then I taught him "le soleil se lève." Emmett repeated this phrase back to Penny perfectly. Penny got so excited about the sun coming up that she did a little happy dance and gave him a kiss on the nose.
Engaging your kids in speaking a foreign language through puppets is a great way to make learning new words fun. Kids have an amazing ability to suspend disbelief and will happily delve into a long exchange with a puppet - try it with whatever words you know in Spanish, French, Chinese, or whatever language you are teaching your child, and see the great reactions... Penny says "Bonne Année!" (Happy New Year). Wishing everyone a healthy happy 2009, from our family to yours.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

How Do Kids Celebrate Holidays Around The World?

In FRANCE families eat a special dessert at holiday time called Bûche de Noël (pronounced "booche de no-el") which means "Christmas log". It's a very sweet cake, shaped like a log from the fireplace! It's made of sponge cake and has lots of chocolate icing. Here is a picture:

In MEXICO a big party for children usually includes a Piñata, (pronounced Peenyata, for it has an ñ, not an n), filled with peanuts in the shell, oranges, tangerines, sugar canes, and candy. All the children sing while one child at a time tries to break the Piñata with a stick while he/she is blindfolded.

Although Piñatas started in Italy, today they are a Mexican tradition. Mexican piñatas are usually made out of cardboard and paper mache and decorated with crepe paper.

Decorate your own pinata:

Or fill a store bought
one with your favorite treats HERE.

ince the vast majority of the Chinese people are not Christian, the main winter festival is the Chinese New Year, which takes place toward the end of January. Kids decorate by lighting their houses with beautiful paper lanterns. Many Chinese children also hang stockings and await a visit from Santa Claus, whom they call Dun Che Lao Ren (dwyn-chuh-lau-oh-run) which means "Christmas Old Man." Santa Claus may also be called Lan Khoong-Khoong, "Nice Old Father."

Make your own lantern:

Thursday, December 11, 2008

"Une Pomme" Means Apple

Emmett has certain words he always remembers in French that he loves to say. One of them is "une pomme." Whenever we find one he points it out and says excitedly "une pomme!" When he is having trouble remembering new words in French I point to an apple and say what is this in French? He always brightens right up. "Une pomme!" he says proudly. Or sometimes it’s more of a "duh mom, une pomme, of course!" This helps keep learning fun for Emmett, and it's also a key piece of the Pimsleur Method. My father's method included many instances of recall affirmation - he'd' teach you a complex phrase and right after ask if you know how to say "How are you?" Or something easy like that. "Of course I do," you think and answer with ease. That little surge of confidence enhances your ability to remember the more complex phrases being taught.

Find your own "une pomme" with your kids and remember that affirmation and repetition are key to a child's learning a new language. And keep it fun!

(Click on Little Pim above for our Word of the Day Coloring Pages, another way to make language learning fun and interactive!)