Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Bilingual kids: When they don't know a word in the target language

Here's a little bilingual technique we've been using this summer that seems to work well especially for Gabriela who is 6 years old.

Today at lunch Gabriela was describing one of her toy Squeenkies to me. She said (and just remember that we are in the second half of our Spanish immersion 2 weeks): "Tiene una cosa violeta en su dos." (Translation : She's got a purple thing on her dos - back.) She used the French word for back.  I mocked shocked surprise and confusion and she giggled. When I prompted her to  tell me how to say back in Spanish, she piped up: "Espalda!"

"Espald-i?" I retorted.

"No! Espalda!" she squealed.

"Espald-o?" I asked her inquisitively with a mock look of confusion.

"No! Espald-a!" she insisted while giggling with delight.

"Oh, espald-a!" I pretended to be relieved at finally understanding and thanked her for her help. How would I ever speak Spanish the right way without my Gabriela's help? She was still giggling infectiously and I was grinning from ear to ear about our little linguistic learning opportunity.

So what just happened there?

In my opinion, when a child doesn't use the right word in the target language, it's for one of the following reasons:

1. He really doesn't know the word in the target language.
2. He does know the word in the target language but hasn't used it enough to be able to recall and use it and so he substitutes with the same word but in his primary language.
3. He's just being a little lazy and chooses the word that comes most quickly in his primary language.

Playing the above linguistic game allows you to see if your child knows or doesn't know the word. If he doesn't know it, you seize the learning opportunity and teach it to him. If he does know it, you also seize the learning opportunity and you play the game. Once your child says the word correctly you repeat it a few times incorrectly and allow your child to correct you! This fun little game allows four things to happen:

1. You test your child's vocabulary and either teach a new word or reinforce a word that he already knows.
2. Your child repeats the correct vocabulary word several times as he "corrects" you, thereby engraving it in his memory and decreasing the possibility that he'll forget it again.
3. The sillier you are about your little learning game, the more your child will giggle. And the stronger the emotion, the wider the learning door opens, thereby increasing his chances of retaining the vocabulary word and being able to use it later on.
4. It's an opportunity to instill confidence in your child. Change roles and make believe that it's your child that's teaching you!

Of course every child is different and teaching techniques should be molded to individual personalities. Carefully observe your child, listen attentively to your own intuition and don't be afraid to experiment with different techniques. Sooner or later you'll begin to stumble upon techniques that are effective because they are suited to your child's personality and learning style. Vary the techniques to keep your child on his toes and to avoid any one technique becoming repetitive.

What do you do when your child uses the wrong word (even if he's not bilingual)?

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