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How to learn another language – Part 2

Part 2: Receptive Skills – Reading and Listening

In part 1 of this series, 5 questions every language student should ask themselves, we looked at some ways you can stay motivated on your language journey. Now we will focus specifically on what you can do to improve your receptive skills (reading and listening). The lifelong language learning skills discussed in this article are aimed at intermediate level learners of any language, but these ideas can be adapted for lower or higher levels with a little bit of creativity.

First things first. Before anything can come out of your mouth in a new language, something has to go into your brain. If you have ever tried to learn another language, you might have noticed that to start with using your receptive skills was much easier than using your productive skills (speaking and writing).

Reading
Have you ever stopped and thought about how you read in your mother tongue? Now might be a good moment to do so. Did you realise that you probably don’t read every single word?

Notice what and how you read over the next 48 hours. Emails, text messaging, news articles, adverts, we speed read them all trying to get the general meaning and main points (skimming) or locating specific information like a time or an email address (scanning). Interestingly the skills we use when reading in our native language rarely transfer effortlessly into our new language. We have to consciously work on them.

How to read a news article:
1. Look at the headline and the pictures that accompany the text. Think about what you will read. What do you know about the subject already?
2. Skim the text quickly for general understanding. Were your predictions correct?
3. Read the text a second time, this time for detailed understanding. Scan for who, what, when, where and why.

That’s it, you’re done! You didn’t even need to read or comprehend every word to get a satisfying level of understanding. If you want to, you can take a minute to process the text for useful language. Underline words you want to look up, words you would like to use, synonyms etc.

Learning about text composition:
1. Find a newspaper article online that looks like it might be interesting to you. Don’t read it yet. Print it out.
2. Cut it up into paragraphs and mix them up.
3. Make yourself a cup of tea.
4. Read the headline/title. What does it make you think of? What do you already know about this topic?
5. Take some time to read some of the paragraphs (in any order), does what you read confirm some of your ideas from step 4?
6. Try and put the article back into the correct order. Think about what you would expect to read in the first and last paragraphs. Then fit in the middle ones.
7. Read it through from the beginning, does it read well? Do you want to change around any pieces?
8. Finally compare it to the original version online.

Tip: Look for links between paragraphs by asking yourself questions:
-Who (or what) are they talking about? Are they mentioned again?
-When did this happen? Are they talking about the past, present or the future? Do the tenses/time references match?
-Are there any connecting words (eg. But or however for contrast / furthermore or and for giving more information)

Listening
You can attack the listening skill in a similar way to reading. Note when and how you listen in your mother tongue. I listen a lot to the radio. But I don’t listen carefully to every word when the DJs are speaking. I tune in and out depending on whether the topic being discussed interests me. Or if I’m at a train station I prick up my ears when I hear my destination mentioned, but the rest of the time I don’t pay attention to the announcements. Can you apply the same listening techniques to your new language?

It’s a good idea to connect listening activities to habits you already have. I’m currently working on my Italian at the same time as taking a Dutch beginner course. To make sure I work on my listening skills in each language I have assigned a different language to regular activities. I listen to Dutch radio and my Dutch coursebook CD in the car. I listen to Italian radio when I’m hanging out at home. Unpleasant housework (washing up) is accompanied by podcasts from my favourite London radio station in my native tongue, English.

Have you ever tried watching TV in your new language? Maybe you can re-watch your favourite film or TV series. Make the most of the internet, there are plenty of free online resources that you can use to improve your receptive skills.

Try and apply these tips in the next week and see how you get on. Measure your progress (for some ideas on how to do that check out part 1 in this series). Tell me how it goes!

In part 3 we will cover how to work on those scary productive skills.

For more useful information like this, please sign up for our mailing list using the form in the side bar on the right.

For information about English language courses in the South Holland area you can email me at info @ englishvoice .nl

Photo by Roman Kraft on Unsplash

The multilingual child’s stages of speech

When a child grows up in a multilingual environment they are given the key to a wonderful new and rich world. But this world can be challenging at times. Parents might worry when their children don’t start to speak when expected in one or all of their languages.

Understanding the stages that a child goes through before speaking will help parents to evaluate at what point in their development their child is and whether there is any need for worry or action.

Stage 1: The Silent Period

This is an important stage that should not be rushed. Infants are able to understand a lot before they can speak any words and their ability to comprehend should not be underestimated. In fact they always understand much more than they are able to produce in words.

During this stage toddlers take time to observe, hypothesise and test their understanding of vocabulary.  They might even be making an effort to communicate with you non-verbally. Note that this stage lasts much longer for some children and it is very important not to compare or measure their progress with other children*. Remember every child is different. If a child prioritises movement they might focus on learning to walk over learning to speak. They cannot possibly work on everything they need to learn in life at the same time.

Introducing baby sign language during this stage can be a huge support for families and act as a bridge between the languages baby is exposed to.

Stage 2: Beginning to talk

In this exciting stage infants are beginning to attempt sounds and then words. For example, the word milk might come out first as ‘muh’ or ‘mimi’, evolving into ‘milk’ as they gain more command of their speech muscles and increase in confidence.

Perhaps you’ll hear them trying out some statements that they have memorised exactly as they heard them. ‘That’s a dog’. ‘Let’s go home’.

This stage can last a very long time and overlap with stage 3 as they continue to build up their vocabulary and grammatical knowledge.

Stage 3: Building up language

During this stage children start to modify memorised statements and create their own sentences. ‘Time to go home’ might become ‘time to play’ or ‘potty time’.

With continued parental support, high quality and frequent exposure to each language you can be sure your child will continue to progress on their journey of becoming multilingual.

Note: One language can dominate over another. It’s possible that both languages develop at the same speed. Or that your child doesn’t seem to attempt speech in any language. All these scenarios are considered normal and not a cause for worry.

*If you are worried about the rate of your child’s development it is important to seek out the appropriate support from a professional. If the problem is related to their speech I strongly suggest finding a therapist that is experienced in working with multilingual children because they are known to progress and develop differently to monolingual children.

If you would like to receive more information like this please sign up to my email list (see the form in the side bar) so that you never miss another article.

I organise workshops and language courses for infants and children in Delft, South Holland, in an effort to support them and their families on the long rocky beautiful road of multilingualism. Please get in touch (info @ englishvoice .nl) to find out more.

5 tips to help your child love reading

Here at English Voice we take reading seriously. We think it should be seriously fun!

Unfortunately reading often becomes hard work, especially when approached academically and with targets in mind. So how can we help children to really love reading from the start?

  • Start young – Make board books available for your baby. Black and white and bold images with plenty of contrast are attractive to even the smallest infants. Tactile books will keep them busy discovering new textures. They will learn what books are and how they work. Let them hold them and taste them. Consider fabric books and waterproof books that are easily cleaned.
  • Make books accessible – Try and get as many books as possible for your child. It’s true, they can be expensive, but you can sign up to the local library (in most places children join for free and in some places libraries have a welcome gift pack for newborns with a couple of books inside), think about swapping books with your kid’s friends and check if you can get them second hand in your area.
  • Make it fun – Reading should be for pleasure or children will soon refuse to read. Pick books with topics that your child is interested in, better yet let them choose. Encourage them to read at anytime, not just bedtime. Even when kids are able to read by themselves, they benefit a lot from their parents reading to them. It’s a wonderful time to connect and bond.
  • Engage your child – Stop and look at the pictures together. It’s easy to get into the habit of asking your child lots of questions ‘where’s the dog?’, ‘what’s this?’ but don’t let it become an interrogation. You can also describe the pictures, your little one could be exposed to new vocabulary that way. Ask them open conversation questions, ‘which bit of the story did you like the best?’. Encourage them to make predictions, ‘what do you think will happen next?’, or express any other observations they have.
  • Be an example – Show them that reading is important by actively reading yourself. Let them see what you like to read, tell them what the book is about and share what you learn with them. This is a huge motivation for kids, they want to be like mum and dad.

What has helped you encourage reading in your family? Your tips might help others to improve in this area and have more fun with their children!

English Voice organises reading lessons for small children, from around 4 years old, using the Oxford Reading Tree series published by Oxford University Press and used in 80% of primary schools in the UK. For more information please get in touch at (info  @  englishvoice.nl)

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How to learn another language – Part 1

Part 1: 5 questions every language student should ask themselves.

Study topic or living language?

So you want to learn a new language, what’s the first thing you do?
Look up courses, buy CDs and a grammar book, order a learner’s dictionary…

The traditional approach to language learning involves going to class, working from a coursebook, doing a series of activities and lots of homework. Every student in the class wants to get the most out of their investment of time and money. But many discover that the initial enthusiasm doesn’t last, they don’t have time to do their homework, they are not satisfied with their teacher or they miss a few lessons.

Is it still possible to benefit from the effort put in? It is if you realise that learning a language is a journey, not a destination. You can use the momentum gained from your initial actions to maintain progress and motivation. How?

I encourage students to take an active part in the learning process by asking themselves the following questions:

1. Who has responsibility for learning anyway? Me or my teacher?

I have found that students who consciously think about and evaluate their learning benefit more than those who do not. Is it enough to go to class once a week and do the set homework? Many would agree that more is needed.

Take responsibility for your learning.

2. What kind of learner am I? What’s my learning style?

Do you like learning in group classes or do you enjoy quiet personal study? Do you learn better from studying or from doing? Do you like doing word searches but hate those filling in the gaps tasks?

Notice how you learn best and keeping doing it that way. Ditch the activities that drag you down and demotivate you.

3. Is it better to learn a language on my own or in a group?

Is it possible to learn a language alone? To a degree, yes. But you would probably agree that at some point you will need someone to speak to. You don’t necessarily need to enroll in a language course. Instead you could:

-Join a club that uses the language you want to learn.
-Find an interesting LinkedIn group and join in with an online discussion.
-Ask a friend on Facebook to introduce you to one of their friends who speaks your target language.
-Join a cookery club or fitness class in the language you want to improve. Combine your language goals with learning something else that you’re interested in.
-Check out what the local community that speak your choice of language are up to on meetup.com

4. How can I measure/evaluate my progress?

Keep good notes. Making and keeping word lists (or flash cards), with new vocabulary recorded by topic with examples, opposites, synonyms and notes on common errors will help you review what you have learnt and see how far you have come.

What about keeping a learner’s diary? Write down activities you did to work on the language and how it went. Was it easy? Or difficult? Did you enjoy it? Did you retain what you had learnt or forget it all? Use your findings to become a better learner.

Most smartphones have a voice recording app. You could record yourself now and then again in a month. Listen for pronunciation issues. Check how you use the tenses. Compare your recording with a native speaker. You will have concrete evidence of your progress!

5. How do I start?

Be proactive. Fact: The more you work on something, the more benefit you’re going to get.

-Personalise what you study by choosing topics you find interesting.
-Ask your teacher for suggestions.
-Find ways to live in the language you are studying.
-Build new habits (or transfer existing habits like reading the news from your mother tongue to your new language).

I hope you have found these ideas useful and that they motivate you to continue on your language journey, one step at a time.

In parts 2 and 3 we will specifically look at what you can do to work on your receptive skills (reading and listening) and productive skills (speaking and writing).

For more useful information like this, please sign up for our mailing list using the form in the side bar on the right. Then you’ll never miss a thing!

For information about English language courses in the South Holland area you can email me at info @ englishvoice .nl

Signing with baby – How can I help your family?

I’m passionate about helping as many families as possible benefit from using baby sign language with their children. It is such a simple thing to introduce but has a very powerful effect. However, sometimes it can be difficult to know where to start. Or how to keep the ball rolling.

Help me to help you!

  • What questions come to your mind when you think about signing with your baby?
  • Is there something that puts you off?
  • Anything that worries you?

Please complete and share this form with other young families so that everyone can benefit!

Fill out my online form.

Recent feedback from a workshop, from Dani, April 2017:

“Thanks Roya for a fun and educational class! Jax and I had a great time and we are constantly practicing the signs you have taught us!”

Workshops are held every month in the centre of beautiful Delft, Zuid Holland. Get in touch by email (info  @  englishvoice.nl) for dates and pricing.

Baby Sign Language Workshop – Essentials

 

After a fabulous workshop I promised the attendees a list of the signs that you learn in the Essential workshop so they could revise them at home. Here it is!

Family

  • mummy/mama
  • daddy/papa
  • brother
  • sister
  • grandmother
  • grandfather
  • aunt
  • uncle

Food

  • eat
  • drink
  • milk
  • more
  • full
  • all done
  • apple
  • bread

Manners

  • please
  • thank you
  • toilet
  • pee
  • poo
  • nappy
  • dirty
  • clean
  • stop
  • bed

Workshops are held every month in the centre of beautiful Delft, Zuid Holland. Get in touch by email (info  @  englishvoice.nl) for dates and pricing.

We also have a Facebook Group: English Voice Baby Sign Language. You are very welcome to join us!

Additional Useful Resources:

  1. An American site with a lot of materials, support and a video dictionary.
  2. A British sign language video dictionary.
  3. A fun YouTube channel that presents signs with songs. 

 

How to Introduce Baby Sign Language to your Family Routine

For about a year I have been running baby sign language workshops in Delft at the beautiful Womanhood Studio and it’s so much fun! More than that it is a real pleasure to see how it creates a great bond between baby and parents, months before little one can speak.

Are you curious about how it works? Here are some top tips that will help you to introduce some simple signs to your family routine.

  • First, you need a baby. Preferably older than 6 months and not talking yet (although there are many benefits to starting earlier and teaching signs to older infants).
  • You don’t actually have to ‘teach’ your baby signs. Does your baby already wave goodbye? Think about how they learned to do that. They copied what they saw you doing. This is baby sign language in its simplest form. So if you want to teach your baby to sign milk, then use the sign every time you talk about milk, look at milk, show them milk and give them milk. They will soon connect the sign with… milk! It’s just like learning to wave, you always wave goodbye to daddy in the morning when he goes to work. Eventually baby does it too. All by themselves.
  • I’m sure you noticed from the last point that repetition is important! Be patient, babies will understand the meaning of the signs long before they perform them. That is already communication! Most infants will not sign back until they are about 9 months old.
  • Start with one sign, (milk, bed and eat are good ones) and make it a habit to use it every time you have an opportunity in context. Then add another sign in when you use the previous one as second nature, without thinking about it anymore… It should become a habit.
  • Get all the family involved, including older siblings, grandparents and carers. This has been a wonderful bridge in our family connecting two sets of grandparents who speak different languages with a few well chosen simple gestures.
  • Have fun!

I have workshops scheduled every month in the beautiful centre of Delft, Zuid Holland, get in touch by email (info  @  englishvoice.nl) for dates and pricing.

We also have a Facebook Group: English Voice Baby Sign Language. You are very welcome to join us!

Feedback on a recent workshop, from Zuzana, April 2017:

“Baby sign language was nicely inspiring, it was even better than I imagined.

Roya has plenty to show and say.
She is doing her best to be of service not only to the babies and the studio (space) is very cosy & homey.

Roya’s manner is open, she is nicely comfortable in her own skin and thoughtful.

I got very inspired to get more creative while spending time with my baby and I´m lucky to introduce all the signs to my partner at home who has also joined practising signing to our 6, 5 months old daughter.

I can’t wait to attend the next baby sign workshop :-)” 

For more useful information like this, please sign up for our mailing list using the form in the side bar on the right.