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!

Spring forward…Fun with Flowers and Foreign Language

Playing and learning

I’m all about Everyday Language–learning and using world language words in everyday contexts to show kids that learning can happen anywhere AND it can be fun, too!  Take a look at this simple project and see how easy it is to connect language and culture with a fun family activity.

Spring is just around the corner, and what better way to get inspired than to create bunches of fun flowers to decorate your home.  These quick creations don’t need water, sun, or plant food–just a little folding and twisting to make a neat bouquet!

Simply take a few small squares of tissue paper (about 6-8 inches square) and stack them flat on the table. Beginning at one side, fold the stack of papers accordion-style.  Next, tightly twist a green chenille stem (or twisty tie) around the center of the folded stack.  Gently separate the folds of the paper and open them up to create the flower ‘petals.’  Visit this site to see illustrated instructions of this project.

Turning crafts into learning props

Now that your flowers are complete, use them as props in games and activities to help you learn about world languages and cultures.

For simple games to practice words in another world language, try these ideas!

  • Use color words or number words to count and sort the flowers into groups.
  • Hide the flowers around the house and have children find flowers of certain colors, or give clues to the hiding spots using room or furniture words.
  • Make extra flowers to give away to family members or friends, practicing family vocabulary.

Did you know that flowers are part of many world cultural celebrations?

  • In Nice, France, they celebrate Mardi Gras with a parade of floats made of flowers, then toss the flowers to bystanders as they pass by.
  • In Genzano, Italy, Corpus Christi Day is celebrated by creating a long flower petal carpet through the town streets using intricate designs. When the festival is over, townspeople disperse the petals by walking along the flowery carpet.
  • The Chiang Mai Flower Festival in Thailand is known for its elaborate flower floats that parade through town.

Learn about more flower festivals from around the world here. Host your own flower parade and celebrate Spring, wherever you live!

 

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!

Get organized with Symbaloo

Bookmarks for the web

We all have our favorite web pages for news, blogs, social media and more.  If you are interested in language and culture, you might have some favorites as well such as on-line dictionaries or travel tips or photo sites that keep you inspired and help you learn. Symbaloo is a great way to keep track of your resources in a visual bookmarking format rather than just a listing of sites on your browser’s ‘favorites’ tab.  One of the advantages of Symbaloo’s free site is the ability to color code  your links to create visual categories of many topics in one simple page.

Color-coded simplicity

For example, imagine that you want to learn Italian in your family.  You have searched many websites and identified certain ones that provide cultural or historical information about Italy.  In Symbaloo, you can create a tile for each site and ‘label’ it as a color, let’s say blue.  You have also found some sites that are more appropriate for children that help review Italian words or provide age-appropriate on-line learning games.  These can be grouped together as green, for example, to help you identify them more easily.  Finally, perhaps you are planning a trip to Italy next, and are researching certain hotels, tours, or city maps to plan your adventure.  Each of these sites can be grouped and color-coded as well so you don’t have to keep searching for those bits of scrap paper where you wrote the webpage’s 57-character url…..

Language and culture at your fingertips

If you have an interest in multiple cultures and languages, you can arrange your Symbaloo page by culture.  For an example of this, visit Explor-A-World’s webmix.  Once you create your own webpage mix, you can share it with others.  Make your language adventure a family affair!  Share the same web resources with grandparents, cousins or far-flung family and friends.  Create a section on your Symbaloo page for Skype, Facebook, or your own family blog to stay connected and share your language learning experience with distant family.

Once your Symbaloo mix is created and shared, you can notify users when you add a new tile or resource. Sign up for a free account today and get your webpages organized!

If you have a language- or culture-related webmix, share it in the comments section below!

Cartoon Culture: Part 1

Bilingualism in cartoons

Inspiration strikes when you least expect it! The other day, my son was home sick with the flu. Feverish and tired, the only action he saw all day was displayed on the television screen. Did you know Cartoon Network shows cartoons…ALL DAY? As I tried to do some work in the adjacent room, sounds of Scooby Doo and Tom & Jerry crept in constantly. Then something interesting happened. I heard another language…on a cartoon!

Talking animals…who speak world languages

Wait…maybe there is some redeeming quality to these animated shows! It turns out the show in question was Adventure Time, and the language was apparently Korean (I had to research it to be sure!). Lady Rainicorn, the magical unicorn wife of the talking dog, Jake, speaks Korean. Imagine that. What interested me most was the casual display of a basic bilingual family. Lady Rainicorn understood English-speaking Jake, and he understood her. Each spoke in their ‘native’ language to each other and to their magical unicorn puppies who understood both mom and dad.

Avoiding cultural stereotypes

There may be other cartoon characters who have spoken world languages, but the displays that I am familiar with are often stereotyped. I was excited to see two little otters speaking French in a cartoon once, but they were accompanied by berets, artists palettes, and a deliberate effort to exude French accents, changing their laughter from ‘hee-hee-hee’ to ‘hau-hau-hau’ in order to act more French. Pepe LePew, the malodorous skunk, was quite the ‘French’ lover. Drawing only on cultural stereotypes serves to highlight the differences among us, rather than show how we connect in similar ways in day-to-day life. Thankfully, multilingualism has infiltrated kid’s media in recent years in a more positive way: Dora is a problem-solving kid who also speaks Spanish. While there are certainly critics of the depiction of some bilingual characters, overall, the exposure of children to new languages in an educational and constructive way has been a welcome change.

Support for early language learning is increasing, and helping kids become accustomed to a multilingual world–even in an animated show–can provide a model for what it’s like to interact with others who speak a different language. As Jake and Lady Rainicorn go about their magical daily life, their bilingualism is not the focus of the story. It’s just the normal way they communicate while keeping their shape-shifting puppies out of trouble!