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We don’t need no Education

Choosing the title of this post took far longer than it should – in one of my decisive moods today – anyway Pink Floyd seemed less offensive than Tony Blair, and the song fits very nicely with a future post. I’m trying to psyche myself up for the annual school shopping expedition which will blog when accomplished – not something I anticipate with any relish. Anyway here’s something far more intelligent, not something liable to happen very often here, and it’s a long one (no bishop jokes, please).

For a year or so now have been reading A, a very thoughtful lady with whom I share many interests. In short (something I say a lot, but that rarely happens), though we’ve never met I just adore her. Earlier this year she did a post on bilingual education and somewhat misguidedly asked for my opinion, prompting the longest comment I’ve ever made.  More recently I found a related article here at  http://scienceblogs.com/neurophilosophy. Many thanks go to Stan at Sentence First for finding the article in the first place.  As is the way with this blogging lark, I can’t remember how I came across him, but I’m very glad I did. It was either via Wordslinger, Virtual Linguist, or Lynneguist.

Here follows the comment I made chez A Changing Life, but please go to the original post first, as others were far more pertinent than I.



Heck, throw a small subject at me, why don’t you?

I’ll break it down into subsections to make my brain hurt less (have a gueule de bois this morning)

A) To be truly and totally bilingual one needs to have grown up with a parent of each language and hopefully also been educated in both so that each is as fluent,natural and erudite as the other. In the developed world this tends to be children of diplomatic families. Labourers also repatriate for work but are less likely to be both parents different maternal language. In other parts of the world however, bi or even tri-lingualism are much more common with indiginous languages being used within extended family and parents making sure their children understand the ‘imposed’ language (usually French or English in preparation for school.

B) My kids are almost bilingual (most people would class them as fully-so, but I’m a terror for splitting hairs/infinitives).
They live in and are schooled in France but with two English parents and a Daddy that doesn’t DO languages. We speak English at home and watch the Beeb, though I will yell at them in French when out and about (ex au-pair). There are marked linguistic differences between them. The Daught, though still wee when transplanted had already been through playgroup/kindergarten in England and subsequently did Reception class in an English speaking school (French system wouldn’t accept her health problems and I refused to send a very intelligent child to special school). Despite being in the French system since GS Maternelle (age 5-6) she still shows a marked preference for English and an aversion to French.
The Boy, though less than two years younger has known nothing other than the French system (won’t say better/worse, will diplomatically stick with different). He has more vocab gaps in English than French and when talking about something for the first time in English comes out with some very Norman expressions (that’s Guillaume le batârd not Wisdom).

{Bii) Most people class me as tri-lingual as German (used to be, less so now after a decade in la Belle Patrie) on a par with French and I have no difficulties understanding or expressing ideas on most any subject in either language, however the way I construct my sentences is most definitely non-native. Also, unless I’m able to remain aloof and continue thinking in English, I find it taxing to switch between the two as, if I’m thinking in French the German gets masked, and vice versa. This is to do with how memory pathways are formed, put simply both are in the foreign language slot) My kids don’t have that problem (see C)}

C) Am no neurologist, but have been told by those who know these things that if a language is learned by living with a ‘target’ language parent or by being exclusively educated in the target language it takes (5 years from age 2 to 7) for the brain to develop truly bilingual pathways. That is to say that after age 2 to 3 the target language is not registered as the natural norm for communication, and after 8 the brain pathways are starting to ‘solidify’ therefore the target language would be classed as ‘foreign’ and stored in the same way as I do French/German. A child raised from birth/very early childhood through to end primary school will use the language in a natural way even if subsequently moved. There have been plenty of cases with refugees not realising they speak Polish/German as had moved from there at a young age, (for obvious reasons will not be breaking Godwins Law on A’s blog), until later in adulthood noticing that the rest of the family don’t understand the gibberish found by accident on the radio/overheard in a shop queue).
Unfortunately, starting to learn a new language after the age of 9, even with total immersion, one is unlikely to become truly bilingual.

D) Pros & Cons :
Pros : Any extended stay in a different language as a child opens the ear and makes subsequent language learning a lot easier, even a different one from that experienced.

Bilingual kids also tend to be good at Maths and music, and most importantly with regard to the icky IQ tests, at lateral thinking; bilingual also means bi-cultural so an acceptance that different ways of doing things are equally valid – a good example is the way maths is taught very differently in France and the UK, but the answer should (usually) be the same.

{About 6 months back read a brilliant article on IQ tests by someone who scores very high but values practical/emotional intelligence more – if I have time will forward, might even have been via Relax Max}

Cons : I have no scientific proof, but have noticed a far higher incidence of dyslexia, dyspraxia and ambidextrousness? in the bilingual kids. When this is severe the parents have little choice but to stick to the language used for school as it isn’t worth a kid being ever unable to read in both, better to concentrate on one, even the foreign one if repatriation isn’t feasible.

Not all teachers in the host country will be understanding, or even tolerant of the quirks that come from being raised bi-culturally. I have horror stories too numerous for here of teachers from ‘l’édu nat’ not permitting questions from kids who’ve been taught, English-style, to be curious.

As with Max I’ll post the caveat that all the above is hearsay and circumstantial, not scientific fact. And am in complete agreement with Max that a lot of ‘knowledge’ is culturally based – get your remote control out and compare your scores on ‘Les chiffres et les lettres’/Countdown, ‘Questions pour un Champion’/Millionaire and le ‘Maillon Faible’/Weakest Link. Voilà un défi!


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