Thursday, 19 January 2012

Supporting your bilingual child with the Language Hub

As a parent who is raising her children bilingually, I'm acutely aware that the main risk for my children's minority language is the fact that it's mainly me who speaks it with them, and that "me" is someone who could also speak English. My kids aren't daft, and from their point of view, there's no need to speak German at all. We got around this conundrum through two long holidays without dad in Germany and it worked wonders. But now that the holidays are 7-8 months in the past, slowly their effect is starting to wear off. To keep the minority language alive, it is crucial to introduce social activities for the children where they are exposed to the minority language outside the home and realise that both languages are useful.
Thankfully, if you're in Glasgow, there's not just a German playgroup but now also an exciting new place for pre-schoolers and primary school aged children where they can learn a second language, or where bilingually raised children can get some extra input and support for their "other" language. I'm really intrigued that this is happening here, because Glasgow isn't that big and it feels a real privilege to have this option. I haven't tried it out yet, but will do so soon. There is a choice of classes available and I particularly like the relative short blocks that are both affordable and will fit into busy lifestyles. While I'm waiting for my older daughter to join the next block, I was keen to find out a bit more about the Language Hub from its director Michelle Gordon.
What gave you the idea for setting up the Language Hub?

My personal interest in languages and language teaching are deeply routed in my earliest childhood. I grew up in Germany with my Scottish father, my German mother and my two younger siblings. My parents always strongly believed in the advantages of speaking different languages and therefore, naturally, raised us bilingually. Having left school, there was no doubt in my mind that I wanted to pursue my interest in language further and to possibly teach it myself; and I did.
My whole life I have experienced what it means to be able to speak more than one language; the advantages it offers and the understanding of different cultures it has given me. I now have two children of my own and they grow up bilingually.
Making a second language accessible to your child  – either in a home or classroom environment – is a very special gift as it will always make your child an even stronger person. 
I am very passionate about language learning as it is a subject very close to my heart. So, in 2011, I decided to set up The Language Hub Ltd in order to offer foreign language learning to (pre-)school children.

What happens in the courses, what's your teaching method/approach?

Our classes are very interactive as the children are continuously encouraged to actively participate. This is achieved with the use of toys, games, songs, dance and arts and crafts ensuring the children are engaged, learning and having fun all at the same time. This applies to all classes, especially to the pre-school and P1-P3 classes. With older children, reading and writing exercises can also be included but generally the oral use of a language is more important at this stage of a child's (foreign) language development. I feel it is important that children at this stage should consider themselves as little as possible as part of an active learning process as this sometimes can dampen the enjoyment factor.

What is the age range and what languages do you offer?

Classes are on offer at the moment for 3-5s, 5-7s and 7-11s who are keen on learning German, French, Spanish or Italian. We also offer language support classes for bilingual children with German, Spanish, French or Italian as their second language. However, we are always happy to add other languages so if you cannot find what you are looking for on our website please get in touch.

Did you encounter any challenges in the early days?

All in all, it took ten months from deciding to go for it and set up the company to starting with the first class. But with two children and a part-time job I am actually surprised it did not take even longer. The biggest challenge I guess was starting the business without any financial assistance and having to rely on what is left from your normal household budget. Also, not yet having my own premises was a bit of a difficulty as finding adequate venues was not as easy as I had hoped in the beginning.

Now the biggest challenge is convincing parents how valuable foreign language learning actually is for any child. Adults very often find it difficult to comprehend that children do not learn languages in the same way as adults do but that children's brilliant little brains do it for them without any effort.

What are your plans for the Language Hub?

One of the future goals is to get permanent premises for The Language Hub Ltd. It was always my dream to incorporate different venues and activities for children under one roof if possible. This would include a language school, a multi-lingual nursery, an after school care club, a baby/children cafe, a children's library and so on....and who knows!

What's you top tip for raising bilingual children?

With all bilingual children, it is vital to understand their individual connection and identification with their second language and their individual confidence in using the second language. Therefore, children should only ever be encouraged and supported, and not forced in any way, to make use of their second language in a manner that best suits their individual state of mind.
It is important to acknowledge why children sometimes use their second language actively, some totally refuse or others only seem to use the language in certain situations or at some particular points in their lives.
From a speaker’s perspective, speaking a second language can make you a part of something but can also single you out depending on the situation. Therefore, a child can feel either special or intimidated by second language use.
The regular passive input of the second language is very important. Even if a child refuses to use its second language over a long period of time the passive input will stay with him or her and a child will be able to access this input when he or she feels like or needs it. This is why we offer our support classes for bilingual children.


Sarah said...

Interesting and how nice to have this near you! No such thing here in Bristol and if there was I doubt they'd offer Dutch/Flemish support. I'm very lucky to have found another Belgian mummy with a similar aged child :). Think I need to plan one of these long trips back 'home' without the husband ;)!

The Wandering Pit said...

Great and interesting post! You´re so lucky to have something like this where you live. I´m quite lucky too as a few of my native English friends have also had babies at a similar time so hoping that they can practice their English together and maybe we can even organise a little playgroup! ; )

Perogyo said...

Oh how wonderful! I have to admit I am a bit jealous, we have an informal playground for kids with English-speaking parents but nothing as good as this! Thanks for sharing!

MotherWifeMe said...

Sounds brilliant! My toddler and I were going to a weekly French group called La Langue Au Chat. When the teacher could no longer do it, a bunch of us mums got together and created our own groups, meeting at each others' houses once a week. It is working really well and I use my blog to keep us motivated by charting our progress!! Good luck with the Language Hub, it is something I aspire too!

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