Making new friends at the Ultimate Blog Party 2013

Bonjour, Guten Tag, Hola, Ni Hao, Ciao, Salam…..

If you are new to the Living Language blog, let me share with you what it’s all about!

On my blog you can learn about world cultures and languages and how to help kids explore them. As parents, we look at many daily experiences as learning opportunities–I tap into these same experiences with a language-learning twist!

Lots of research shows how readily kids pick up new languages at a young age, but most elementary schools do not yet provide regular language instruction. But there are lots of ways to make world language part of your daily life, even if you are not a fluent world language speaker yourself. So join me on my journey to make world language fun for families, with tips, resources and activities for Living Language and enjoying culture in everyday life!

So how did I end up on this path? Almost by accident!  I intended to become a French professor and bounced around academia for a while before volunteering to run a French club at my son’s elementary school. You can read more of my story here, but the short version is that I began expanding my own horizons, learning about other languages and cultures so I could share it with the kids. As I learn new things, I share them in my blog so families like yours can have fun exploring the world too!

Thanks for visiting, and stop back again soon!  I’d love to hear about YOUR language and culture experiences as well!

Making Moves: learning a language through active games

Energy of the young kids

I’m sure I’m not the only one who has spent a busy afternoon with a group of kids and felt exhausted afterwards!  It is exhilarating to be part of their non-stop energy, but while they seem to have an infinite supply of it, we adults tend to run out a bit sooner.  Sometimes the anticipation of tiring out can lead us to squelch the energy of the young kids. We might prefer a quieter learning environment with more structure to the active games that kids love and enjoy.  Finding a balance can be tricky, but here are a few trips to help focus young energy into productive learning games that engage kids.

Shopping in person, not on paper

Since language is meant to be used for communication, get kids involved in actually communicating with one another! Rather than sit and ask a neighbor how they are doing, station kids around a room and have them walk around, introducing themselves or surveying how others are feeling.  Rather than match food pictures and words on a worksheet, have children ‘shop’ for items on their shopping lists by visiting ‘storekeepers’ who hold certain items in their ‘stores’ around the room.  The simple act of moving around to accomplish a task can help instill the actions, words, and context into the learning experience.

I learned this lesson quickly in one class where a young boy was constantly interrupting the quiet discussion, shouting out unrelated responses, and generally being very fidgety.  As soon as we started moving in a task-related activity, he was instantly engaged, completing his task far sooner than the other students. He asked if he could help out the others and went from student to student, helping with pronunciation, giving directions, and communicating in the target language more effectively.

Every teaching moment can’t be filled with action. But incorporating movement into each class helps engage kinesthetic learners in a fun and interactive manner.  What active games help your kids learn?  Share your ideas in our comment section below!

Learning Creative Communication: a tribute to Shel Silverstein

Learning to love your mistakes

I love Shel Silverstein’s books. As a kid, I memorized many poems from “Where the Sidewalk Ends” and “A Light in the Attic.” And I was thrilled when my own sons discovered the same funny verses and quirky illustrations that made me crack up as a kid. One of the things that I love about Shel Silverstein (and Dr. Suess, for that matter) is the creative way he expresses himself and entertains with made-up words, silly rhymes, and creative illustrations. Reading is FUN and sometimes non-sensical, but even if the words are invented, the reader still learns quickly what’s going on.

I saw the book “Runny Babbit” recently, and it made me think of all those times when I mixed up my foreign language words or tried to translate my English thoughts exactly into what I thought would be comprehensible French. (For those who are not familiar with the book, check out this short animation of the first few lines.) I’m sure I sounded like one of Silverstein’s poems, mixing Franglais with gestures and a few invented words to try and get my message across.

It is easy to stress out over grammar rules, word genders and pronunciation when you are trying to perfect a new language. But rather than worry about perfection, think of your mistakes as a sort of “creative communication.” Channel a little Shel Silverstein and express yourself the best you can–you might be surprised how much your conversation partner understands! Even if they smile or smirk as you stumble over a word (or sentence or paragraph), just pat yourself on the back for being able to provide a little linguistic entertainment, Silverstein-style!