Monday Morning Open Thread

What’s up?

If you can humble me with another bragging moment, I won the “Best Activist Blogger” trophy for the Latinos in Social Media Awards. It was a thrill to receive the results live via Twitter. Thank you for voting for me and for your ongoing support over the years. When I left my reporting job eight years ago, I would have never imagined being a part of this dynamic community and doing what I do for work. I feel so incredibly fortunate and blessed. ¡Gracias!  

For the first time in U.S. history, a majority of moms — 50.8 percent — are receiving paid maternity leave, according to Bloomberg News. However, the United States has no national paid leave policy so some of this may be due to women cobbling together disability, sick days and vacation days. Also, very few women without a high school diploma receive any paid time off (19%).

I want to scream every time I hear the “immigrant-children-will-never-learn-English” meme in this country. As it turns out, immigrant families are having a hard time keeping their children bilingual, according to the Boston Globe.

OMG. Michelle Duggar is pregnant with her 20th child, according to the TODAY Show.

What else is in the news? What’s up with you?


Wednesday Morning Open Thread

What’s up?

Out of the 14,000 school districts across the country, less than 2 percent have a Latino or Latina superintendent, according to the blog Latina Lista. The good news is there is a new development program to address this disparity.

In somewhat related news: the New Latina blog had a helpful article on raising bilingual children.

In fitness news: Kaiser Permanente recently sent out this e-mail blast to its members on the benefits of walking 30 minutes a day for five days a week. The walk, by the way, can be split up in two 15-minute intervals to receive benefits such as:

reduce the risk of heart disease
decrease new cases of diabetes
strengthen your bones
improve memory,
and it may even help prevent or help cure certain cancers.

My big news: I just signed up for my first full marathon, which will take place in Palo Alto on October 30. Yes, I am insane. Actually, I was inspired by my friend Joe Sudbay, over at AmericaBlog, who is 50 and has run seven marathons! We went out for a run together in Minneapolis, and I was just so inspired. He has been kind with his encouragement and running advice.

Have any of you run a full marathon? Tips? What else is in the news? What’s up with you?


Wednesday Morning Open Thread

What’s up?

In an attempt to bring more original and interactive content to you, I am hosting a live blog chat for our 9 a.m. post THIS FRIDAY. (We will have another one with Ellen Moran from the U.S. Department of Commerce next week.)

But THIS FRIDAY, we will be chatting with Arcelia Hurtado, executive director of Equal Rights Advocates, an advocacy organization for women and girls. For over a decade, Arcelia has worked as an attorney representing the disenfranchised like immigrants and inmates on death row. She has litigated cases before the California Supreme Court.

You’ll probably be hearing a lot more about her as she is prepared to pursue a class action lawsuit against Wal-Mart for pay discrimination against women. The U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments on Tuesday as to whether it can be certified as a class action suit.

Arcelia, by the way, is also a wife and the mother of two sons. If you’d like to chat with her about the case, how to raise confident children or whatever else is on your mind, please join us! I’ve had the pleasure of meeting her in the past and she is sharp as a whip and quite passionate about social justice. I thought many in this community would be interested in “meeting” her, even online.

Also, if you can’t make the chat, but would like me to ask her a question, please drop it here or e-mail me at elisa at mothertalkers dot com. Many thanks all!

In other news: I noticed an item in the Speaking in Tongues blog about the courage it takes for Latino families who speak no English to place their children in Spanish immersion programs. Okay, that opened a can of worms for me.

The dual immersion programs in our area are having a hell of a time recruiting recently arrived Spanish speakers who fear that their children won’t learn English, or that they can teach their children Spanish at home. As the daughter of Latino immigrants who grew up in a city, in which there was a sign at the local McDonald’s that read, “We speak English,” I want to dispute both fears. These Spanish-first children will learn English, but at the expense of their native language. Because English is the dominant language in the country, chances are the children will assimilate and not want to speak Spanish to their parents — at least not in public. :)

Also, like English-speaking parents, chances are these parents are not going to spend a day at work to then sit down and teach their children how to read and write in Spanish. It’s hard enough to get the kids to do their English homework.

Seeing how much I use Spanish in my job — and have used it in previous jobs — there is a certain tragedy in this situation. In the era of dual-immersion programs, there is a sad irony of English-first speakers from these programs being better prepared for a job that requires Spanish than a Latino who has not been educated in his or her language.

So, yes, it is courageous of recently arrived immigrants to choose an immersion program for their children. But in an increasingly global economy, it pays to be brave.

That’s it on my end. What else is in the news? What’s up with you?


Raising Bilingual, Trilingual Kids

Berkeley Parents Network recently ran letters by two parents asking for help in raising bilingual and even trilingual kids. Read on:

Single parent wanting to raise a bilingual child
I am a single mom (sole custody) and would like my baby to grow up bilingual, as I did, in my heritage language. In two-parent households, it is typical, I think, for one parent to primarily speak each language. But how does it work when there is just one parent? (I do not have local family, and my heritage language is not one of the more common ones in the Bay Area.) So far I primarily speak the heritage language to my daughter, and her caregiver speaks to her in English. But there are challenges, including the fact that English is my primary language, and the language that is more intuitive to me. Part of me would like to speak English to my daughter some of the time, but I don’t want to do that at the expense of the other language.

I would love to hear from any other single parents out there who figure out a way to do this. Has anyone done something where you speak English and another language on alternating days, or some other arrangement? How has it worked?
-single momma

I will stop right there. I do think that if the mother is serious about her daughter becoming bilingual, she is doing a good job in speaking to her in her heritage language. Her daughter is already receiving a lot of exposure in English, including from a caregiver.

From my experience having grown up in a largely Spanish and Creole-speaking neighborhood in Miami, and both my husband and I speaking Spanish to our kids as well as our caregiver who spoke no English, and sending them to a Spanish-language day school, it is still difficult to maintain our heritage language. Yes, my children are bilingual, but it’s been a commitment on the part of DH and I to keep them answering in Spanish.

English is the dominant language in this country. Period. Even if you are in a barrio in Miami where you don’t think you ever hear English, chances are if you are a kid, you are being educated in English and watching some English programming. For a kid wanting to fit in this country, there is no way for him not to learn English. If exposure to English won’t do it, then peer pressure will.

I know this is probably not what this mom wants to hear, but if I were her I would continue to speak to her daughter in her heritage language. I would pull out the English-foreign language dictionary and translate her daughter’s books into that language, and make it a point to have her watch some programming in that language from the Internet.

Yes, Ari prefers to read in Spanish because it is easier, but he is only 7 and it is astounding he can read at all. But based on DH and my childhood experiences, we have no doubt that he will not only master the English language but may even surpass his English-only peers as research has shown. (Scroll down to the section below, “Research Evidence on the Effectiveness of Bilingual Education”.)

Not to sound haughty, but I have encountered so much misinformation about bilingualism even in schools where kindergarten Spanish-first learners are automatically transported into ESL classrooms to learn English. During my tours at the Berkeley Unified School District, I made it a point to principals and/or tour guides that I did not want my son in ESL or special education as he would learn English at his own pace.

Okay, I will get off my haughty high horse now. Here’s the letter by the mom interested in raising a trilingual child:

Hi Parents,

Sorry for the long message in advance.

I sent a post many months ago when I initially launched the trilingual journey with my 9-month-old son. The advice I received was helpful, but I am still struggling with the practice of it and in need of answers. Situation: I am first-generation Portuguese and speak it pretty well and my husband speaks Spanish. I have explored my values regarding trilingualish and more specifically the Portuguese piece, and initially decided it was very important for Baby to speak it (mostly for the cultural exposure). I have been questioning this though since day one but have kept up with consistently speaking Portuguese. I am realizing how challenging this is to put into practice. So as it currently stands, I speak Portuguese to Baby, my husband and caregiver speak Spanish and my husband and I speak English to each other. Several other challenges have also arisen:

  1. I occasionally struggle with finding the right words in Portuguese.
  1. I have been discouraged by my own parents re speaking Port, as their thoughts are, he will likely drop the Port. and speak English since that is what my husband and I speak.
  1. And have been discouraged by my husband and in-laws in speaking Porg. I was not expecting this to be as challening and am now left wondering…
  1. Should I continue speaking Portuguese to Baby or just expose to English and Spanish?
  1. Does anyone have experience with three languages, and if so, how did you go about it and what were the outcomes?
  1. Does anyone specialize or know of anyone who specializes in linguistics?
  1. How should I go about exposing English(ex: read books in English)?

Thank you for taking the time to read this. I appreciate any feedback offered.

Frustrated Mom

Again, I would not worry about teaching Baby English as he will grow up and make lots of English-speaking friends, not to mention hear it from teachers, mom and dad. And yes, trilingualism is completely possible — barring any central auditory processing disorders — and actually easier now that Baby is a Baby. I have cousins who speak English, Spanish and Tagalog (the language from the Philippines). We know a lot of trilingual speakers right here in Berkeley. Here are some examples: a kindergartner who speaks Russian, Spanish and English; a 2nd grader who speaks Spanish, English and German; a 4th grader who speaks Vietnamese, Spanish and English. Usually, one parent speaks to the child in one language, the other parent speaks to the child in another language, and the kid picks up English in school. Yes, even in a Spanish-speaking school like ours, English is spoken on the playground!

I am also saddened that this mom’s family is discouraging her from maintaining their language and heritage. In my experience, bilingualism — and I would love for my kids to be trilingual! — is also a gift because it allows for the child to maintain ties to his or her grandparents or other extended family who may not speak English. I was a little sad when we visited Greece and DH and I could not communicate with a lot of his family members, including the aunt we stayed with.

I can’t imagine my kids visiting their grandmother in El Salvador or their great grandfather in Puerto Rico — which we plan to do in April — and not be able to speak to them in their language. It would completely cut them off from having a relationship with them, hearing their stories, not to mention people of another culture in general.

What say you to any of this? Are your children bilingual or trilingual? What other tips do you have for these moms?


The Skinny on Language Acquisition

Science writers Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman wrote a column for Newsweek summing up the most recent research on child language acquisition. Here is what they had to say about everything from baby talk to bilingual children:

  1. Baby Talk

Brody’s article suggests that when parents use Baby Talk, it confuses toddlers. We’ve heard this concern often, but the science is remarkably clear on this point – Baby Talk clarifies language for kids, well into their second year….

  1. Pointing Out Familiar Objects

As Brody notes, parents help their tots learn nouns by labelling things around the house or around the neighborhood. However, the newest science – again, from Schwade’s team at Cornell – suggests this works dramatically better when it’s not parent-driven, but child-driven. This means a parent should notice what a child is looking at, pointing at, and looking at while babbling. When the tot’s eyes are on the object and studying it, label it for him immediately….

  1. Guessing at What Your Tot is Saying

From nine months old to two years old, many children cannot enunciate a full word for what they want or are looking at. So parents, naturally, guess. When the child is on the older side, parents’ guesses can be very accurate, and Brody’s right to point out that children should always hear the fully-enunciated, proper word sound. However, when tots are on the younger side, guessing at their meaning commonly leads to the problem of criss-crossed labelling….

  1. Bilingual Homes

Recent studies from the National Institute for Early Education Research are proving that children in bilingual classrooms – where one teacher comes in Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, speaking only in Spanish, while another teacher speaks in English on Tuesdays and Thursdays – are not falling behind their peers in either language. The kids are learning both languages without any compromise.

There were more detailed explanations for each point. In the era of hyper-parenting, I appreciated them separating fact from fiction. What do you think?


New Research on Bilingualism

Like I have said a zillion times here before, if you can teach your young child a second language please do! Their brains are like sponges at this age.

Both my children switch between Spanish and English with ease.

As it turns out, between birth and the age of 7 is the best time for someone to acquire a second language, according to research reported by the Associated Press.

Italian researchers wondered why there wasn’t a delay, and reported this month in the journal Science that being bilingual seems to make the brain more flexible.

The researchers tested 44 12-month-olds to see how they recognized three-syllable patterns — nonsense words, just to test sound learning. Sure enough, gaze-tracking showed the bilingual babies learned two kinds of patterns at the same time — like lo-ba-lo or lo-lo-ba — while the one-language babies learned only one, concluded Agnes Melinda Kovacs of Italy’s International School for Advanced Studies.

While new language learning is easiest by age 7, the ability markedly declines after puberty.

“We’re seeing the brain as more plastic and ready to create new circuits before than after puberty,” Kuhl says. As an adult, “it’s a totally different process. You won’t learn it in the same way. You won’t become (as good as) a native speaker.”

Yet a soon-to-be-released survey from the Center for Applied Linguistics, a nonprofit organization that researches language issues, shows U.S. elementary schools cut back on foreign language instruction over the last decade. About a quarter of public elementary schools were teaching foreign languages in 1997, but just 15 percent last year, say preliminary results posted on the center’s Web site.

What might help people who missed their childhood window? Baby brains need personal interaction to soak in a new language — TV or CDs alone don’t work. So researchers are improving the technology that adults tend to use for language learning, to make it more social and possibly tap brain circuitry that tots would use.

Are your children bilingual? How have you encouraged this skill?


Midday Coffee Break

What’s up?

I loved perusing this list at the Multilingual Children’s Association website of celebrities and the foreign languages they speak to their children. For example, I did not know that Ben Affleck learned Spanish when he was 13 while living in Mexico. Or that Orlando Bloom grew up speaking French. Pretty cool. had two helpful lifestyle articles. The first one offered practical and free tips on how to lose the last of the baby weight. The second story were four culprits preventing moms from sleeping at night.

Hybrid Mom’s print publication had an article about moms who play video games with their children. Admittedly, I do not even know how to turn on the Wii even though we have one. DH and DS play though. What about you? Are you a gamer?

Bad Grandma wrote a heart-breaking account of the baby boy she was forced to place for adoption in 1963. What a traumatic experience for women in that era. Bad Grandma also wrote about fighting cabin fever, which I am sure you ladies in the north can relate to.

Beacon Broadside ran a review of a book addressing the disparity in access to healthy foods. I didn’t know this, but our very own Alice Waters was on 60 Minutes and embarrassingly dismissed the high cost of organic food with, “some people buy Nike shoes, two pairs, and other people want to nourish themselves.” Whatever, Alice.

A career coach at BlogHer made a compelling case for why now is the time to start a business.

What else is in the news? What’s up with you?


How To Introduce Children to a Foreign Language

We have discussed raising bilingual children before, but Parents just doled out tips on how to introduce young children to foreign languages, especially if their parents are not fluent in another language other than English.

They were:

Watch and Learn: Educational DVDs and computer programs are a good resource. Your kid will pick up some words and become familiar with the unique sounds of that language. Little Pim DVDs are available in four languages. $18 to $60,

Bingo: Teach your child numbers, colors, and animals by playing a bilingual version of this classic. French and Spanish Bingo, $15,

Dance Party! Kids really tune in to music, so download some children’s songs from other countries to your iPod. “Your child may not understand them, but just hearing a different language will help her recognize sounds and phrases later in life,” says Rhodes. We love Sesame Street Playground: Songs and Videos from Around the World. $15,

Word Wise: Teach yourself a few simple words and use them during daily rituals or errands. At the grocery store, ask your kids, “Do we need manzanas [apples]?” At bedtime, say “bonne nuit” when you tuck them in.

Global Storytime: Check out your local library for popular children’s books in other languages. There are also new titles that sprinkle non-English words into their stories. Two to try: At the Beach, by Huy Voun Lee ($8), about a mother who teaches her son Chinese characters by drawing them in the sand, and Everybody Bonjours! by Leslie Kimmelman ($20), a tres cute intro to a few basic French words.

I am curious about supplemental educational materials like the DVDs and computer programs. Do they work? I have had this question posed to me, and honestly, I do not know. But as the experts in the article noted, any foreign language exposure at a young age is good for a child’s development, therefore worth the investment.


Weekly Parenting News Roundup

Cross-posted at Daily Kos.

Hello fellow moms, dads and caregivers!

As I mentioned last week, this weekly thread is in its third week of existence and I hope to make it a permanent fixture here and on Daily Kos every Saturday morning. Please let me know what you think, as it is a work in progress.

Here are some topics we recently discussed here at MotherTalkers:

Bilingualism. Like, how do you get your children to learn a second language? All three of us who founded MotherTalkers are Latinas who grew up speaking Spanish at home. Our children speak Spanish with varying degrees of fluency. MTer Erika, who is married to a non-Spanish speaker, speaks to her daughter in Spanish and is also eyeing an immersion school in a nearby city.

My son is completely fluent, easily switching from Spanish to English depending on who is speaking to him. But it has not been cheap nor easy. My husband and I reverted to the language of our youth when he was born, which was awkward at first since we’d been speaking only English to each other the previous seven years. I translated most of his English books into Spanish and almost all the kids’ books that line his book shelf are in Spanish. (Check out the foreign language children’s section at Borders and Barnes & Noble.) He also attends a Spanish preschool, which has been painful to the wallet. But he is completely bilingual and bicultural, which has brought us and our parents much pride. Are your children bilingual? How have you helped them learn a second language?

Fellow MTer Gloria discussed all the ways she bonds with her 14-year-old daughter. Parenting teens is a different beast than parenting preschoolers. Please discuss the ways you maintain contact — okay tabs — on your burgeoning adult.

In case you missed it, the New York Times ran a trend story on how women are expected to surpass men in the workforce. A whopping 82 percent of layoffs due to the recession have afflicted men. Meanwhile, women are maintaining their families on predominantly female, but poorly paid jobs, in education and healthcare.

Finally, in celebrity gossip break, Bristol Palin admits that abstinence-only education is “not realistic at all.” Ouch.

Also, there was much hoopla — both good and bad — around Salma Hayek nursing a starving African baby on a relief tour. I thought it was a gesture of compassion and helped bring attention to the region. Newsweek and some of its readers, on the other hand, thought it was “weird.” What say you?

What else is on your minds?


Facial Cues of Language

This is an interesting new discovery about babies: at four months old, babies can tell when a person switches to a different a language just by watching their face.

Researchers at the University of British Columbia (UBC) published their findings in the journal Science:

They found that babies can tell when people switch to speaking a different language from the change in rhythm of their mouth and face movements.

As they get older, babies who are not exposed to more than one language lose this ability, but babies growing up in a bilingual environment retain it.

Weikum, who is a neuroscience doctoral student working with Canada Research Chair and Psychology Professor Janet Werker, said:

“We already know that babies can tell languages apart using auditory cues. But this is the first study to show that young babies are prepared to tell languages apart using only visual information.”

Here are some other tidbits that the study revealed:
• Language recognition is multimodal; that babies use their eyes as well as their ears to process language.
• Babies from homes where only one language was spoken did not respond to the shift in language. Only babies from bilingual homes did.

“By eight months, only babies learning more than one language need to maintain this ability. Babies who only hear and see one language don’t need this ability, and their sensitivity to visual language information from other languages declines.”

A couple of years ago, I bought myself some CDs to learn Spanish. I had been a quick learner of French when I studied it in school, so I anticipated that I’d race throught the CDs. But learning a language solely through auditory means was so hard for me! I had no one to look at, nor letters to roll around in my mind. So it comes as no suprise that babies are responding to the visual aspect of language, too.