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Techniques for encouraging second language output - part 1.

Date of writing: 15th October 2013.
Age of subject: 4 years and 4 months. 

This article follows the theory article on the importance of output...

Getting there at last!

If you have been speaking to your potentially bilingual child for a long time in English and he/she is saying relatively little, you may need some techniques to help you "extract" the latent language. A year ago, I was suffering the frustration of how to get my own daughter to communicate with me in English (see article: "The loneliness of the long-distance father"...). I am now pleased to announce a much more gratifying communicative experience with my daughter in English and I believe that in part this is due to certain approaches I introduced to bring about this happier state of affairs. 

child drawing 1 

The following techniques to encourage second language output come with examples in the form of audio of my daughter and I. If you know of other techniques or have some recordings of your child speaking in English that you are particularly proud of, you may post them to the forum.

 

The parent/child mp3 recordings.

Recordings were taken over a period of four months starting from when Carmen was just four years old. The earliest recordings over this period are given here first and the most recent at the end. Does the tendency to communicate more in English show itself towards the end of that time period? My impression is that Carmen's second language production is at present more frequent and includes longer and more complex phrases.

Technique 1: ...in English?

Simply insist as much as you can that your child says the Spanish phrase in English. It is just so easy to carry on, parent and child, speaking two different languages until the child gets older and the habit of not speaking in English is too ingrained to change. When you do ask your child to speak your language, you will normally choose phrases you are quite confident he/she can say.

child drawing 2 

Example audio 1...

Audio script:

Me: (reading from book) "My mum said I should forget about playing with the clouds as only the birds could touch them." What are these in the field, over here?
Carmen: Piggies.
Me: Piggies? Ok.
Carmen: ¿Qué dice su mamá?
Me: What's she saying?
Carmen: Yes.
Me: She's saying you can't play with the clouds. That's a silly idea. They're too high in the sky.
Carmen: ¿Y qué dice?
Me: What?
Carmen: ¿Qué dice?
Me: In English?
Carmen: What's she saying?
Me: What's she saying? She says: oh, I want to play with the clouds. I think they're so lovely.

Technique 2: questioning from pictures.

Asking your children about the contents of pictures (eg. from story books) is a well-known technique to encourage output and reinforce vocabulary knowledge. It is important to make it sound natural, however, and not like a language test! Encourage interest in the picture. Where the child is not sure of the name of something, the parent can make a suggestion. Avoid outright negating of "incorrect" answers.

child drawing 3 

Example audio 2...

Me: Turn over here. Ah! All these people coming to her town. Look! There are different shops, aren't there? What's in this shop?
Carmen: Fruit!
Me: Fruit! Right. Ok. What sort of fruit can you see? What are these?
Carmen: Melons.
Me: Melons. Right, ok. What are those, do you think? Don't know?
Carmen: No, I don't know.
Me: Do you think they might be oranges, perhaps?
Carmen: Yes.
Me: What about this shop? What's this shop?
Carmen: A shoe shop!
Me: A shoe shop, ok. And what are there...? What things are there in the shoe-shop?
Carmen: Boots.
Me: Boots. Ok. And what are these?
Carmen: Flip-flops.
Me: Flip-flops? Ok! Flip flops...

In time, the child should begin to question you and we have something more resembling dialogue. Notice that I reinforce Carmen's language with mirror speech.

Example audio 2b...

Me: What are the animals here in this picture?
Carmen: Snake.
Me: A snake?
Carmen: A butterfly.
Me: Butterfly.
Carmen: No, two butterfly!
Me: Two butterflies, right.
Carmen: Parrot.
Me: Parrot, good.
Carmen: Beetle.
Me: Beetle.
Carmen: Beetle. Hee hee. Two beetle.
Me: Two beetles.
Carmen: What's this?!
Me: What's what?
Carmen: A spider. Hello, Mr Skinny Legs!*
Me: Ha, ha. Mr Skinny Legs! He looks a bit like a spider, doesn't he?
Carmen: What's this?
Me: Erm. A beetle, isn't it?
Carmen: No, that's a no beetle. No, because this is little. This (has?) a beetle BIG!

*Carmen heard about Mr Skinny Legs in an episode of Peppa Pig.

Technique 3: first letter prompting.

At four years old, a child who has received a lot of second language input (eg. from a parent) has a great deal of stored latent language. One way of eliciting this language into output in a cognitive way is to suggest a word by the utterance of its first letter or letter cluster, eg.

Parent: sp... sp... sp...
Child: spider!

child drawing 4 

This is preferable to just telling the child the word as this second approach requires the child to produce no mental exertion of recall. By small doses of mental exertion we forge neurone connections in the brain and subsequent cognitive development.

In the following extract, Carmen and I are building a tower from cuisenaire rods and she could not remember the name for it.

Example audio 3...

Me: T... t... t...
Carmen: Tower!
Me: A tower. Right. So, which ones do we need?
Carmen: What?
Me: To start the tower. Which ones do we need? Which blocks do we need to start the tower?
Carmen: Mmm. Blue!
Me: Blue?
Carmen: Yes.

Where's the cat gone? Notice how prompting the first word can elicit a complete clause.

Example audio 3b...

Carmen: (????) the cat here!
Me: Where's that? Where did the cat go? U... u... u...
Carmen: (laughs)
Me: U... u... u... Un... un... un...
Carmen: U... u... under the car!
Me: Under the car. Right.
Carmen: Under the car.
Me: He went under the car.

Not always easy, as you will see! In this next extract, Carmen is convinced that the name of the colour of a brown block is white - with amusing results. (Notice you can add letters if your child fails to answer first time and always give him/her the benefit of the doubt if they do not make it.)

Example audio 3c...

Carmen: That one!
Me: This one? OK. And what colour is that?
Carmen: Mm?
Me: B... b... b...
Carmen: (Laughs)
Me: Eh?
Carmen: B... b... b...? Brite! (laughs).
Me: (laughs) What is that! Br... br... br...
Carmen: Brow!
Me: Brow... brow... brow...
Carmen: White!
Me: Brow... brow... brow...
Carmen: Brow(n?)!
Me: Brown! That's it, good! Brown.

Technique 4: adult language input to get better output.

Children often ask why something is the way it is. A parent's rather complex reply to a four-year-old in the mother tongue is easily justified due to the child's vast linguistic knowledge. In the second language, one could assume we should simplify answers linguistically to allow full comprehension. I am not convinced by this approach. If I simplify my lexical content, I must necessarily give answers that fall below the child's intellectual and cognitive levels.

child drawing 5 

This method is suitable for older schoolchildren and even adults because they realize they are practising the language. So a class of highly educated adults with Phd's learning elementary English will happily talk about their favourite colour or how many brothers and sisters they have. However, I feel parents of pre-school children in bilingual development should refrain from inculcating the notion of "the English lesson". Avoiding classroom language teaching methods as much as possible allows second language acquisition to evolve in a way which more closely resembles mother tongue advancement.

Parent second language input should be pitched at the pre-school child's intellectual and cognitive levels. Although this may mean the child fails to fully comprehend the input, it does allow exposure to new language and intellectual concepts, which in turn should permit eventual linguistic and cognitive development in the second language.

In this next extract, I intended to make few restrictions on lexical input when answering Carmen's question "why?" but instead explore intellectual concepts with her that, at four years old, she might be beginning to understand.

Example audio 4...

Carmen: Fly.
Me: She's flying. And where is she flying? What are these...? What's this white stuff here?
Carmen: In the clouds.
Me: The cloud, yeah. And who's this flying with her?
Carmen: Chicken!
Me: Chicken, yeah! (Reading from book) "But up there, all I could hear was the wind. There were no bongos, no songs and no neighbours. All that silence made me feel sad."
Carmen: Why's she sad?
Me: Why is she sad?
Carmen: Yes.
Me: Because it's very quiet. Really, she likes to be with people, to dance, to listen to Mathew playing the bongos. She's a bit lonely up there, don't you think? Mmm?

 

Technique 5: being organised by your child.

Young children spend so much time having things explained to them that one of their pet delights is to play at doing the same. You only have to watch children in a playground or (in my case) playing in the local square to see this happening. Older children will begin to organise a game; place a little boy or girl in a presumably strategic place, give complex instructions then proceed to organise somebody else. This goes on until the whole square is dotted with little children standing about and waiting expectantly for something interesting to happen. It often does not or if it does nobody seems to know what they should be doing. They get bored and wander off.

child drawing 6 

Young children spend so much time having things explained to them that one of their pet delights is to play at doing the same. You only have to watch children in a playground or (in my case) playing in the local square to see this happening. Older children will begin to organise a game. Someone will place a little boy or girl in a presumably strategic place, give complex instructions then proceed to organise somebody else. This goes on until the whole square is dotted with little children standing about and waiting expectantly for something interesting to happen. It often does not or if it does nobody seems to know what they should be doing. They get bored and wander off.

The desire to organise other children and adults is so strong, it is not difficult to insist on the condition that the child does it in English. Here, Carmen organises me into playing a ball game of her own invention in our patio.

Example audio 5...

Me: Yep.
Carmen:
If the ball goes there and there...
Me: Yes.
Carmen: I throw it and hit it right there and up, up in the sky...
Me: Mmm.
Carmen: And if the ball goes down...
Me: Right. If the ball goes down...?
Carmen: You hit it with (???) and it goes like this (?????) Jump like this. Ok? If the ball goes here.
Me: Right. Ok. Shall we start then? Who's going first?
Carmen:  Daddy.
Me: Daddy? So, right. I need the ball. I kick the ball, shall I? Up. Daddy kick the ball? Up here.
Carmen: (????) up in the sky!
Me: Up in the sky.
Carmen: Wait a minute! Now!
Me: Ooh. There it goes!

Go to the second part of this article on techniques for encouraging second language output...

 

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