On March 9, 2011, we were fortunate to have Ana Lomba present an engaging webinar that included practical advice, ideas, and great resources to infuse early childhood programs with language learning. The participants asked great questions, but we were not able to get to every question. Ana kindly offered to answer the questions in writing. We’ve posted them here on our blog.

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Note from Ana: If you opt-in to my contact list before March 31st, 2011 will receive a one-hour lesson plan sample as well as a link to a free electronic game to learn Spanish, French, and English. To opt-in, go to Ana’s website (www.analomba.com) and fill in the information in the blue box. — Ana Lomba —

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Q. Can all of the strategies, resources, and activities be used with two-way immersion programs as well?

Answer from Ana Lomba: Absolutely! The strategies and activities that I presented in the webinar are excellent for two-way immersion programs as well. Also, in the case of two-way (also called dual language) programs it is a good idea to use parallel resources whenever possible. Of course, each language requires culture-specific resources as well, but by using as many parallel materials as possible you are helping your students mobilize their stronger language in the aid of their weaker or newer language. The parallel materials can also be an invaluable resource for the parents. The more that parents get involved in their children’s language education the better.

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Q. Please share some strategies in building the school/home partnership in language learning.

Answer from Ana Lomba: The strategies are different depending on the type of program we are talking about.

World language programs are normally quite limited in time, and as I explained in the webinar time of exposure is highly correlated with proficiency. For this reason, ideally world language programs should start in early childhood and engage the parents for even more exposure. The teacher could recommend materials for the parents to use with their children at home, she could also create a website to share audio activities, etc.

In the case of classrooms with English language learners (i.e. most English-speaking preschools) the strategy may consist in encouraging the non-English speaking parents to continue using their home language. While this recommendation may seem counterintuitive, it is founded on years of research showing that bilingual children learn English faster when they have a solid oral and literacy foundation in their language as well. Moreover, this has the additional benefit that the children grow up in two languages. The teacher could also recommend specific strategies such as reading to the children each day, engaging them in conversation, etc.

The strategies then would depend on the type of program, but all programs would benefit from parental engagement.

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Q. Can you speak on why children who are ELL’s sometimes opt to be selectively mute in the school setting for a period of time?

Answer from Ana Lomba: If you are referring to the disorder called “selective mutism” then my advice Алонсо would be to contact a bilingual speech-language pathologist and follow the recommendations of the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association on the topic. [Fran, the link is http://www.asha.org/public/speech/disorders/selectivemutism.htm ]. By the way, children do not choose to be selectively mute, just as nobody chooses to have anxiety, phobias or panic attacks. [I underlined the word bilingual because unfortunately many speech-language pathologists do not know much about early bilingualism]

In general though (and this applies not only to ELL’s but also to children learning foreign languages), young children would benefit from unthreatening and playful opportunities to practice speaking in the new language. For example, instead of asking individual children to respond to questions or share their opinion (therefore, putting them in the spotlight), it is a good idea to plan speaking activities in which their voices are hidden within the group’s.

For example, when reading a storybook aloud, you could practice saying the character lines together. You could do this in choir (you and the children say the character line together), or in echo (the children repeat the line after you). If you think that this is just rote parroting, think about it again! Not only will your ELL’s and shy students feel more secure but also ALL of your students will benefit from speaking with better expression, prosody and diction.

When designing my units, I pay particular attention to speaking tasks and how to make them seem less threatening to my students. I was an extremely shy student myself, and I hated speaking in class (even though everything was in my native language), so cheap nba jerseys I understand very well how incredibly stressful the experience can be for a child who is asked to operate in a language that is not his or her own.

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Q. [Question from a world language teacher] I do not translate during my class however there are some times when my students will ask to translate what I am saying. Would you recommend translating even if it is done rarely?

Answer from Ana Lomba: Use your judgment about the situation. If it is something that can be resolved by circumlocution, then keep trying. However, if you are talking about an abstract concept or a term that may lead to confusion, then go ahead and explain quickly then go back to the target language. Some people feel very strongly about staying in the target language. I feel more strongly about not wasting time and energy in the wrong places. That being said, I try to stay in the target language as much as possible. A good way to go is to dedicate the first few minutes and the wholesale nfl jerseys last few minutes of the class to explain things in English and offer a strong immersion experience in between.

The trend I see now set by ACTFL is to provide instructions for complex language tasks in English (for example, older children could receive written instructions in English for a project that involves some research, but they have to perform the task in the target language). This works very well for many other complex tasks for younger and older students. [ACTFL = American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages; www.actfl.org]

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Q. I use same strategies (i.e. storytelling, songs, dance etc) with older students in 1st-3rd grade along with academic piece such as workbooks… what are your thoughts about that? Helpful? Also, do you tell stories in English and Spanish?

Answer from Ana Lomba:  I am not sure what you mean by “workbooks.” Are you talking about workbooks to develop mechanical skills necessary for writing, reading, math, etc? In that case, absolutely! I like comparing the language skills to the blades of a propeller. When all language blades are there and working together, then the child flies in the new language (the language blades are reading, writing, speaking, and listening). It is also desirable to use the new language as a vehicle to acquire academic content (math, science, etc), not just learn the language per se.

As for using the stories in two languages, I would not recommend doing this in a world language class, but this would be a good approach for dual language programs and regular English programs with ELL populations. That being said, world language teachers could share bilingual versions of the stories to the parents for extra support at home.

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Q. What about children who are delayed in learning both languages.  Would strategies be the same?  And would you still work in both languages?

Answer from Ana Lomba:  Be aware that there is a chronic problem with English language learners being referred to special intervention services when day what they need is second language acquisition support. An additional and more severe problem is that many of these families are asked to drop the home language in order to focus on English.

As I explained in the webinar, there is absolutely no scientific base to support the assumption that focusing on English only leads to better outcomes. Quite the opposite! Dropping the home language leads to the unfortunate situation called “subtractive bilingualism.” What is subtractive bilingualism? I’ll explain it with an analogy. Imagine a person that has a strong and a weaker leg. The doctor then decides to amputate the strong leg to make the weaker leg stronger. Crazy, ah? But even if the stronger leg is not as solid as it could be (because maybe the child has not been schooled in the first language), it is always better for a two-legged person to strengthen both legs than to cut any of them, wouldn’t you agree? Many educators forget that the first language is the emotional and identity connector to a culture and a family, and therefore a very important leg. Losing that strong leg, the children struggle and many end up dropping out of school.

By the way, I myself received the recommendation to drop my home language from a speech therapist that came to my house to examine my then 2 1/2 year old daughter. The therapist hadn’t even come through the door when she made the recommendation based on general assumptions (she hadn’t even met my daughter!). I had to explain to her the many reasons why that was not a good idea. Move forward ten years. My daughter is now 12 and a bright, straight-A, bilingual student in 7th grade. She is studying French in school as well.

Ever since that sour experience, I make a point of asking the bilingual parents in my workshops how many of them have received the same recommendation. A bunch of hands usually go up. Then I ask them if they followed the recommendation. Some hands go down changes but others stay raised. One mom almost broke down in tears when she told us that she overheard her 5 year-old daughter explain to another child (who had asked why she didn’t speak Spanish like the rest of her family) that she didn’t speak Spanish because she was dumb. This young girl was ashamed that her older brother spoke Spanish and she did not (the parents had followed the recommendation and they spoke in Spanish to the brother but not to her). In her young mind, she had come to the conclusion that she was less intelligent than her brother. As you can imagine, the parents were very upset that they ever followed that recommendation.

That said there are indeed some bilingual children who have speech or language delays. However, being raised bilingually does not create the issue or make it worse. It’s more like a mirror: whatever problem they have in one language they will also have in the other language, but this doesn’t mean that they can’t learn them both. Bilingual children with speech or language delays will need intervention support in both languages, and what I said about subtractive bilingualism applies to them as well. The parents can provide support at home if shown how to do so, as I did with my daughter.

A great book to read on the topic is Dual Language Development and Disorders: A Handbook on Bilingualism and Second Language Learning, by Johanne Paradis, Fred Genesee, and Martha Crago.

On a final note to this question, our youngest daughter is a special child with many medical and developmental issues, and she does not speak, sit, stand, walk, or eat on her own. Nevertheless, we speak to her in our two languages. She is eight years old.

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Q. What about the parent who feels they will ‘hurt’ their child’s second language acquisition by saying a word wrong?

Answer from Ana Lomba: What is worse, that your child doesn’t speak a second language with a native accent or vocabulary or that he doesn’t speak a second language at all? We have to leave behind the myth of the perfect bilingual. The truth is that even highly skilled bilinguals typically have a dominant language, and it is not unusual for them to have an accent or make mistakes in their non-dominant language – but what a terrific skill to have! Another point to make is that, once started, parents typically look for different resources and language learning opportunities to help them along the way, and more practice and exposure leads to higher proficiency. So, it’s not a one-time shot! And since young children have better auditory skills, it is not unusual to hear preschoolers correcting their parents’ pronunciation in the new language. Ask any parent-child teacher!

As for parents of ELL students, I would recommend that they continue using the home language at home and that they read to their children and help them develop reading and writing skills in their own language if they are able to. This is the best way to elevate their children’s overall academic level. That being said, they can help their children do their homework in English as well.

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Q. How does an English-speaking mom or teacher facilitate the reading of those stories?

Answer from Ana Lomba: If you are talking about my stories, they come with audio. The best approach is to take it easy and focus on smaller tasks at the beginning. For example, you could play the audio several times and try learning the lines of one particular character. Once you get to that character, you could stop the audio and talk like the character. You could also work on only one chapter or even just one page at a time. Your child, by the way, will benefit very much by observing the strategies that you are using in order to learn the language.

Another important point is to use the language that you learn throughout the day (e.g. if you learn to CMG say, “Tengo hambre, ¿y wholesale nfl jerseys tú?” / “I’m hungry, and you?” in Spanish, then use the Spanish expression and question when you feel hungry). You will add more language with additional readings. My stories include lots of dialogue because I want to support children and adults’ speaking skills.

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Q. Does Ana have simple songs that are cultural as opposed to us translating American songs into the target language?

Answer from Ana Lomba: Finding child-friendly songs from different languages is a challenge. Fortunately, the Internet is starting to help in this respect, but it is still not easy, I know! One website that I love is Mama Timothy Lisa’s World. [Fran, the link is http://www.mamalisa.com/?t=eh ] It has beautiful songs and lyrics in several languages.

In my CD Hop, Skip, and Sing Spanish I use games, rhymes, and songs from Spain and Latin America (also available in French). In Spanish, I like the music by José Luis Orozco, Whistlefritz and others.

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Q. Can the iPad apps be uploaded to the Mac?

Answer from Ana Lomba: Unfortunately not. The iPad and the Mac use different platforms. However, you can get the stories as online subscriptions from my website: www.analomba.com

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Q. What would you consider a “high quality” bilingual resource? Examples?

Answer from Ana Lomba: In my view, high quality bilingual resources should:

  • Keep the languages separated.
  • Maintain the essence and authenticity of each language.
  • Be well written (i.e. well edited, no grammatical or orthographic mistakes!).
  • Provide additional information needed for a non-native person to read or use the language (e.g. my Mandarin Chinese materials include pinyin, which is the official transliteration of the Chinese characters to the Latin phonetic system; otherwise, American parents would not be able to read in Chinese).
  • Be recorded by native speakers (if non-native parents and teachers are going to spend money on resources to help them build their language skills, then I think it is very important a that the resources come with native voiceover).
  • Include lots of visual support such as vivid illustrations (in the case of young children).

In relation to this question, I invite you to also read Why my blog “Parents—Beware of the Fast Food Approach to Foreign Languages.” [Fran, the link is http://www.analomba.com/polBlogs.cfm?doctype_code=Blog&doc_id=61 ]

I take all of the above in consideration when designing materials and curriculum in Spanish, French, and Chinese. Also, Language Lizard has wonderful bilingual materials in over 40 languages (www.languagelizard.com).

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Q. What about languages which spoken dialect is different from the written language? Should storytelling and other activities start in the spoken dialect for the first year or two and then move on to the formal version a year later?

Answer from Ana Lomba: Or you could introduce the formal language as if it was a foreign language and alternate sessions in which you use the spoken dialect with sessions in which you use the formal language. I know that the formal system is used for writing, but writing is easier for children when it corresponds to an oral (or signed) component. Even when teaching Latin and other classical languages that are only read today, many teachers teach the children to speak the language (an approximation, that is). When I taught Latin in middle school, I had children act out the scenes. I believe that the performing arts are a great way to learn languages.

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Q. Where can we get these series? Are they available on Amazon and other bookstores?

Answer from Ana Lomba: The hardcopies are available through Amazon and other Internet and local bookstores. The e-storybooks through a subscription via my website. The apps are available from the (iPad) iTunes store. I hope to develop new apps for other platforms soon. [Note: the stories are the same for the subscription and the apps].

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Reminder  from Ana:

Remember to opt-in to my list at www.analomba.com. In addition to the sample lesson plan and the link to the e-game, you will receive my blog updates and information about new products. — Ana Lomba —