If you’ve tried to send an email to any of the bilingualreaders.com email addresses over the last few days, you may have received an error message stating that our mailboxes were over their capacity. We’ve tidied up our inboxes just in case, but the server doesn’t seem to care and seems hell bent on its plans to block us from receiving messages for the time being. Thankfully I’m pretty sure our web developer will be able to easily resolve this issue fairly quickly, but our frustration with the server has helped me to realize just how dependent we are on new technologies. When I arrived in Spain for the first time a little over ten years ago, finding a place to check my email was fairly low on my list of priorities. Yet now it’s hard to imagine a day gone by without seeing what my friends across the globe are up to on Facebook (our apologies in advance for the 5 second self promotional reminder: by clicking here you can check out what Bilingual Readers is up to on Facebook). The world has changed so much over such a short period of time, and most of my generation has thrived on this new global playground.
Or have we? Are we really taking advantage of all of the possibilities these new technologies have provided, or are many of us hindered by language barriers, which prevent us from gaining access to all the information our neighbors have to offer? We now have so many opportunities to connect with and learn from people all over the world in real time, but in order to truly take advantage of these possibilities, we must first be able to speak and understand the language of those we are trying to communicate with. Just think of all the treasures out there just waiting to be discovered (and I’m not referring to the gold and gemstone variety), if only we could understand one another!
Just one more reminder of the most important reason to teach our children languages at an early age. One of our main goals at Bilingual Readers is to give the next generation the tools it needs to be able to communicate with and learn from as many different cultures as possible. Who knows what a future filled with new technological developments will hold, but we want our bilingual readers to be as prepared as possible to thrive in this increasingly global community. Let’s start a revolution, one bilingual book at a time.
Today we inaugurate a new section called the Wall of Shame. Every so often we’ll be including articles, videos and other snippets of real life, painfully shameful occurrences. The purpose of this section is not to have a cheap laugh at the expense of some poor soul (ok, that’s not the only reason), but rather to cause us to reflect on some deeper more meaningful issue that affects bilingual families. Bear in mind that a person’s shame is often not directly his or her own fault, so we’ll also use these posts to address the root causes of each shameful situation and try to find ways to either avoid them or somehow make them better.
And the first member of our Wall of Shame is…Jon, the up and coming singer and reality star from Spain’s “Operación Triunfo”!!! When Jon was nominated at last weeks gala, he knew he’d better come up with something special, and what better song to showcase all that talent than Toto’s 70′s classic, Hold the Line. You’ll all be pleased to know that his hard work paid off when the audience voted that he remain in the academy for another week. Check out the video, and then we can discuss..
Ready? Ok, here are my thoughts and observations, although I’d love to hear yours. Aside from the fact that everything about this act is de vergüenza ajena, I’m sure if you’re reading this article in English you’ve realized that poor Jon’s level of English leaves much to be desired. That said, I want to make it clear that we did not include Jon in our Wall of Shame to make fun of his accent. (After 8 years in Spain and a life completely immersed in Spanish, I am well aware that I will always have a twinge of a foreign accent, so who am I to judge?). I also want to preface this by giving Jon credit for the complete and total confidence with which he got out there and gave his all in a foreign language which, as a good friend and former English teacher in Spain pointed out, is a major component of language learning.
What earns Jon a spot on the Wall of Shame is the fact that, as a Spanish young person, I am 100% sure that Jon has been receiving English lessons at school since he was a small child. I’m also 100% sure it’s not entirely Jon’s fault that he is singing the words he saw on the page without a clue as to their meaning. While the Spanish government is making a noble effort to improve the nation’s level of English by opening as many bilingual public schools as it can, unfortunately many of the teachers in these programs are wholly unprepared to teach the children in English. This is an issue that needs to be addressed, as a linguistic barrier between teachers and students could lead to even more serious learning problems in core subject areas. Those who live in Spain will remember the recent fiasco in Valencia, where teachers were forced to teach “Educación para la ciudanía” coursework in English to blankfaced teens who understood little of what they were being taught. While the intentions are good, I think we’d all agree that this is not the best way to give our children a solid education.
Unfortunately this problem is far from specific to Spain. As a child in the United States, I was not even given the option of learning a foreign language until I was 11 years old. As a teenager and even a university student, I had several Spanish teachers who didn’t really speak Spanish. As a result, I received a BA in Spanish with a very high grade point average without being able to carry on a decent conversation in Spanish, yet many school districts would have snapped me up as a Spanish teacher without thinking twice. Of course there are many, many talented and highly qualified language teachers out there, but there are also many teachers who are nearly as clueless as poor Jon. This is only tolerated because many school districts in the US fail to see the relevance of foreign languages, leading to zero accountability from teachers and students when it comes to actually speaking a foreign language. Thankfully, this is changing in some regions as more and more parents are becoming interested bilingual programs which allow children to do elementary school course work in both English in Spanish. But the Spanish level of the average American child is strikingly low, considering the huge amount of Spanish that is spoken by native speakers in the US.
Whether we’re talking about Spain or the US, Jon’s problem is all too common. Yet I truly believe there is hope for children everywhere. Countries like Sweden, Finland and Holland have managed to develop educational systems which enable most students to reach extraordinarily high levels of English upon graduating from high school. Bilingual education is possible and necessary, but we must first recognize its value. Then we have to be humble and open enough to study different education models and try to incorporate new methods into our own models. We need to provide our teachers with the necessary resources to achieve the language levels we want our children to achieve. Most importantly, we need to get parents motivated about raising their kids bilingually and provide resources for those parents who are making such an effort to give their children the gift of bilingualism. A solid foundation for language learning begins at home, and my hat goes off to all of you are fighting the daily battle to make this dream a reality. Keep up the amazing work!
A recent post on TinyEye.com, an intersting blog by Speech-Language Pathologist Marnee Brick, caught my attention. The article was originally written to help parents make the most of on-line websites for kids, but the language stimulation techniques she includes can be applied to any sort of interactive parent-child activities. Of course it’s also great advice for getting the most out story time with your favorite bilingual readers. Here are a few of our favorite tips:
Please let us know which techniques you find most useful, and feel free to send us useful tips of your own!
(via Foreign Language Fun)
With their new campaign Discover Languages…Discover the World the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages is getting the word out about why we should all learn new languages. Aside from being absolutely adorable, the kids in this video make some great points.