Friday, March 14, 2008

How does a child become bilingual?

This is basically a response reading 2.1, part 2.2 How does a child become bilingual?
The initial answer that was proposed in the reading was by growing up in a bilingual environment.
Being a parent and living abroad, I initially thought that creating a very supportive home environment in one language, can coexist with a different outside environment. When my daughter was born, I imagined creating such a supportive English language environment at home (yet outside the home everything is Japanese), follow the one-person one language maxim, and instill within my daughter a love for both languages, so much so that she would be proud to speak both languages in all situations. Alas, my hopes and expectations were somewhat too idealistic and definitely did not account for all possible affecting variables (psychological and social). Don't get me wrong, I tried my hardest to make those dreams a reality, but if I knew then, what I know now...alas regret, something I try to avoid...
According to the reading ~ exposure, consistency, perceived need, and social support all factor into the mix, however, I feel that the social aspect has a considerable impact.
1. Providing a chance for exposure to take place is sometimes difficult to create. When my daughter was young, it seemed easier, with videos and books, but as she grew older, and especially at the time she began school (regular school), it was harder and harder to create opportunities for her to use and be surrounded by English.
2. Consistency (in staying in English mode, or responding in the same way each time) is difficult to maintain, especially when I am also trying to learn the language of the society I am living in. I find it hard to only respond in English for at least two reasons. One is that I want to use the language I'm learning, and the other is that I want her to be able to really understand what I am talking about. Her Japanese seemed to suddenly take off at around age 5 or 6 and English kinda lagged behind... Sometimes it was easier and faster to speak in Japanese. I also often find myself talking in mixed English and Japanese, using the words that I feel more comfortable with, and that would get the job done.
3. When my daughter started school, her perceived need to speak English suddenly dropped, because she wasn't encountering English that often (I was the only person who spoke to her in English). It wasn't that she didn't understand English, it's just that she had few opportunities to speak it... and slowly but surely, she started reverting back to Japanese, even when speaking with me... My choice was either to encourage her to speak only English, or let her speak Japanese and speak to her in English. In the beginning, I chose the first one, but it didn't work...I eventually moved on to the second option...But now there is nothing motivating her to speak English...
4.It seems sometimes, that all her outside influences are just too strong... That and my wife only speaking Japanese to her...
I am happy with the English she does know. I feel that when she was young, I exposed her to enough English, for a fairly long time, in that so called critical period, that English will stay with her, in some way. She may always have that feeling for the language. My worry now is with her language attrition (loss of English), but I believe that I can support her now and in the future. The kind of support varies as time passes, and she goes through different stages. But I discovered, it's undesirable if you push too much and it's also undesirable if you don't expose your child at all. It's really a fine line...
Somewhat personal today

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Measures of Bilinguality

I think that I agree with Hamers and Blanc's idea that we should try to maintain a multidimensional view of bilingualism and bilinguality, even when trying to establish criteria to determine competencies that lead to someone being considered bilingual or not. Too often linguistic competence alone is chosen (by the lay-person) as the only criteria. Psychological states and socio-linguistic aspects should also be considered to gain a more holistic perspective.
I know that my own language performance in my L2 is quite often affected by my mood, or the environment I find myself in, or the task I am to perform. I believe that each bilingual person has their own set of behaviors, specific to their situation, culture and languages. My question is that in a measure of bilinguality, how do you account for the 7 measures proposed by Hamers and Blanc in a balanced way, maintaining validity (are we testing what we really want to test), and consistency/reliability over populations of individuals who all have varying and unique needs? In simple terms, how do you make a test that fits each and every bilingual, when cultures and languages and individuals have so many differences?
What does everyone think?

Friday, March 7, 2008

What is a bilingual 2?

Hi there everyone...
I was doing some research for my homepage, when I came across an interesting slideshow It is made as a listening lesson, but it brings up some interesting comparisons btw elective and circumstantial bilingualism, especially when she talks about her learning English in an English speaking country.
Check it out...

How you would choose to define your language abilities?

How you would choose to define your language abilities, Steve?

Well, it's hard to say... I consider myself bilingual in some domains, but hopelessly out of my league in other domains. Sometimes I feel that I can speak Japanese really well, especially at an Izakaya (kinda restaurant/pub in Japan) when the language is very casual, but in school meetings (when conducted in Japanese) I struggle for every word.
At the moment, I tend to disagree with the labeling that is done (refer to:Incipient/balanced etc), as it tends to pigeon hole people under headings that may not adequately describe them. But without the jargon, it is very difficult to discuss concepts, 'cause we would need to rely on a lot of pretty heavy description...something I noticed while doing the research subject last semester...
My friend and I (he is Japanese -but fluent in spoken English) were discussing my language ability the other day. He said to me that I don't really know Japanese, 'cause he rarely hears me speak it. I said to him that it is quite difficult to speak to him in Japanese, 'cause I know that he understands English really well. Then I told him to finish the conversation in Japanese...which he did and I could understand his every word, but I was still unable to respond to him in Japanese. I had some kind of invisible wall, that made me clam up in Japanese, and revert back to English replies.
There are many times that people praise me, and a lot of other times when they say my Japanese sucks. So it leads me to wonder how someone can really evaluate another person being bilingual.
I think anyone who has had a reasonable amount of exposure to an L2 (or L3, L4) and communicate or understand communication in that language (through at least one of the macro skills) is bilingual to some extent.

How you would choose to define your language abilities?
ps. I don't know if I adequately responded to this question, because it seems like such a big one, at least for me, at this time...

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Incipient Vs. Balanced Bilingual

I was just wondering, and it could be quite a stupid question, but is there anything in between Incipient and Balanced bilingual? I realize that these are just labels used by academics to define the boundaries of bilingualism, but I feel I can't say that I am at either the minimal end of incipient bilingualism or the maximum end of being a balanced bilingual.
On the questionnaire attached to the USQ DB, I voted that I was an Incipient bilingual, but I feel there should be further divisions that include people with strong abilities in say, just one receptive skill such as speaking or listening, but weaker with productive skills. I guess this is where the Holistic view of bilingualism plays a part?!
a bit confused...

How does context affect bilingualism?

Hamers and Blanc (2000) make the process of defining bilingualism a little more challenging within that first chapter, as now we should also be considering not only cognitive processes, but also social interactions, and socio-psychological aspects as well. That is not only the ability to understand and perform within a second language (L2), but how the context of our situation makes us feel toward a language, and how much we are encouraged to valorise (attach positive value toward) the language systems around us. In a monolingual environment, that may be nil. In a bilingual or multilingual environment it would depend on the prestige attached to the respective languages.
That brings me to question my environment here in Japan. It is essentially a monolingual environment (Japanese), but English seems to be promoted as 'the' language to learn to get ahead. Yet, it seems like it is more said than done, as English levels remain low (according to standardized tests such as TOEIC, etc), at least compared with other Asian countries. Does English have any prestige, or enough to make people value it and internalize it? Are the forces (pretty much everything is Japanese first) at play in this essentially monolingual environment too strong? I know that every time my students (college kids) leave their classes, the pressure to speak Japanese can be seen, because I see them quickly change to their first language (L1). The only exception I see, is with our International High school kids. They seem to continue speaking English in the halls, almost in a kind of defiance or to show themselves capable... Could age and development, as two of the dimensions of bilingualism be strong players in how confident students are in going against societal norms?
I don't know really, but I think that as students get older (here), they start adapting to behavior of the group, and often the nail that sticks up, is hammered down... Kind of a negative view, but Japan tends to favor group behavior rather than showing individualism. And speaking English (well) here is still considered kind of special.
Steven thoughtful

Monday, March 3, 2008

What is a bilingual?

Hi there everyone,
I have been lazily getting into this stuff on bilingualism, but find it all very fascinating...
I was quite interested in the great variety of perspectives on what we refer to as a bilingual. I have to admit, that before starting my masters program, I used to think in the lines of the popular view as posited by people such as Bloomfied (1935, as cited in Hamers and Blanc 2000): a bilingual being someone who can speak both languages perfectly. Yet, now I am favoring Grosjean (1985, as cited in Hamers and Blanc 2000) or even Macnamara (1994); a bilingual is more than the sum of the two monolinguals and who posses a minimal competence in one of the skills. This seems to be a richer and deeper definition of the complexity of being bilingual. The Japanese expression for someone who is from two cultures is 'half'. I often joke with people here by saying ~not half...'Double'. 'cause I believe (now this may be controversial, and I hope that I don't offend) that true bilinguals are actually smarter...
I have always been struggling with my identity. Throughout my life I have had a deep feeling of being at least partly Maltese, even though I don't have any physical features that show that I am Maltese. Living in Melbourne, Australia during my formative years must have shaped part of that identity. Even though my language proficiency (...having some understanding of the macro skill of listening, but unfortunately not being able to speak so well) did not match my strong feeling of being Maltese, I was able to feel a strong connection to to culture, and to its language. Every time I heard Maltese, my ears would prick up and I would feel warmth toward it, and some disappointment in not being able to be proficient. My identity must have been heavily influenced by my significant other (mother) when I was a child, to develop a bi-cultural identity, but the context of my social networks and community must have been quite powerful, in that the result is a person who cannot effectively communicate in Maltese (at least in a way that I wish to). It's something that my daughter will have to deal with, too. However, I suspect that she will deal with it in different ways, because of her social context....