Introduction in Spanish...
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Techniques for encouraging second language output - part 2.

Date of writing: 16th October 2013.
Age of subject: 4 years and 4 months.

See the first part of this article on second language output techniques... 

Technique 6: bonding the parent(s) with the second language.*

(*I have since re-thought some comments in this section as native Spanish speaking parents, for example, teaching their children English may well feel a great absence in some important aspects of mother tongue communication if all input is in English. The choice, of course, is a personal one. See more on Spanish native speakers teaching English to their children... )

This is not so much a technique but an attitude and a habit which takes a long time to form. If the parent responsible for the second language input (though it may be both parents) adheres doggedly to that language and never uses another language with the child, the child will begin to make the association. However, not only must the parent use the language but consistently insist the child uses it too and then a stronger bonding effect evolves. The child should begin so strongly to associate the second language with the parent, breaking into his/her mother tongue will only happen in times of a mental lapse, when overexcited or when there are other mother tongue speakers present.

child drawing 7 

In this next extract, I believe Carmen knew what she wanted to say in Spanish about where the snails had gone but she would not use her mother tongue. I could not help by using Technique 3 as I did not know what she wanted to say. Furthermore, I love the way Carmen struggles here to make herself understood in English - not Mummy's house but Mummy snail's house - that would so easily have been explained in Spanish!

Example audio 6...

Me: Right. So what, what do you think has happened to the snails, then?
He come out. Come out... (???)
Me: Right. And where have they gone?
Carmen: To the house... to the house Mummy.
Me: What?
Carmen: To Mummy house.
Me: To Mummy's house? Oh, I see. So shall we look for them in Mummy's house?
Carmen:  No. (??) Mummy house. He go to Mummy house of the snail. The Mummy house. Mummy snail!
Me: Oh, Mummy snail's. Mummy snail's house? Oh, right! That's a problem, then, isn't it? Do you know where Mummy snail's house is?
Carmen: (she nods).
Me: Where?
Carmen: Mmm. In the.. in the... in the...
Me: In the what?
Carmen / Me: (laugh)


Technique 7: tell me a story.

If you read bedtime stories to your child, you can use this material to output useful language at other times of the day. The advantage of stories is that the same one is read often so the child easily remembers the vocabulary and even begins to quote parts word for word. The language may not be necessarily very useful for day-to-day discourse but it is rich and descriptive in prose and expands the child's imagination in English. Exposure to fairy tales helps to bring the language alive for the child. Furthermore, child re-telling of tales can be done at any time and without any the need for visual aids as the images are in their mind.

child drawing 8 

Here, Carmen re-tells the story of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves that we have been reading as a bedtime story recently (a rather toned-down and less cruel version). Carmen is sitting in the back of the car with her mother and I am driving. Consequently, there is rather a lot of background engine noise and some misunderstandings.

Example audio 7...

Me: At the beginning, at the beginning of the story...
Carmen: The, the, the prince...
Me: What is the Queen doing with the mirror?
Carmen: She say(s): "Mirror, mirror on the wall. Who is the (most?) beautiful of them all?"
Me: Right. Who is the most beautiful of them all? And who does the mirror say is the most beautiful?
Carmen: Eh. Snow White.
Me: Snow-white. But what does the Queen think when she hears that?*
Carmen: She drink a magic potion and then (turns in)to a witch.
Me: Right. Ok. Do you remember about the hunter?
Carmen: The hunter? No.
Me: The hunter. That big man who took Snow White somewhere, didn't he?
Carmen: Yes. The forest!
Me: The forest. That's right. Yes. What did he do...? What happened in the forest?
Carmen: She say: "No, no. Don't hit me!" (???)
Me: Right. Ok. So where did Snow White go in the forest? he very frightened?
Carmen: Yeah, because the... the... the... tree, the trees... they are monster(s)!
Me: Yeah. They look like monsters, don't they? So where does she go? Where does Snow White go?
Carmen: She go to the of house... Heigh-Ho.**
Me: Who? Where?
Carmen: Go to the Heigh-Ho (???)
Me: Right. Ok. She goes to the seven dwarves'...
Carmen / Me:
Me: Right. Ok. She knocks on the door. She goes in. And who's in the house?
Carmen: And anybody doesn't clean it.
Me: Right. She cleans it, doesn't she? That's right. Why does she clean it?
Carmen: Because it's a lot of dust and smelly!
Mother / me: (laugh) (???) ...those smelly socks... from the seven dwarves! Yes!

*May have understood "drink" for "think"!
**Cannot recall the words "the seven dwarves" so says "Heigh-Ho" which is part of a song the dwarves sing in the book (from Walt Dysney).


Technique 8: lexical exploration of the child's life areas.

When second language input is restricted to a small group of people - or perhaps only one person such as a parent, language exposure will very likely be limited to the interests of that group or person. It cannot be a coincidence that Carmen, being the daughter of a naturalist with a missed vocation, knows the names of three species of woodlouse in English but is still unable to name the objects in her school classroom! It is important, therefore, to replicate in English, as much as possible, the different lexical groups the child is exposed to in the mother tongue. In this replication the parent can remind and reinforce previously acquired English likely to be forgotten (seaside and beach words in winter, for example) as well as introduce language from other lexical areas experienced in the child's life.

child drawing 9 

Language exploration can use various sources: pictures, photos, Peppa Pig videos of domestic scenarios or doing activities and playing games. Remember, that direct questioning without a visual aid or activity may prove unsuccessful with very young children as it can be difficult to hold their attention without something tangible to see, touch or do. The following four recordings were taken while Carmen was looking at large colourful pictures of: a bathroom, a kitchen, a park and a beach. Where possible, the aim was to elicit Carmen's own experiences about these places using related vocabulary.

Example audio 8...

Me: Can you tell me what room this is?
Carmen: The bathroom.. And there...
Me: The bathroom., Ok. And what's in the bathroom?
Carmen: No, here!
Me: Ok. There are things there but can you look here and tell me what's in the bathroom? (laughs). Eh? Tell me about this little boy. What's he doing?
Carmen: Clean the teeth.
Me: Right. He's cleaning his teeth, is he? What's he going to do? Why is he cleaning his teeth?
Carmen: Going to bed.
Me: He's going to bed? Ok. Do you clean your teeth before you go to bed? (laughs).

Example audio 9...

Me: Right. This is a lovely picture, isn't it? Lots of things happening here.
Carmen: Ooooh. Oooooh.
Me: Where's this? Where's this? What's that?
Carmen: A boy (???) his head!
Me: What's he got on his head?
Carmen: Eh.
Me: Ok. That's called a saucepan.
Carmen: A saucepan (?).
Me: Saucepan. Yes.
Carmen: Ehhh!
Me: He's got a saucepan on his head, hasn't he? Where is this? Which room is it?
Carmen: Mm. The kitchen.
Me: The kitchen. Are there any things you know in the kitchen? Can you tell me about it? Things that you know.
Carmen: Yes.
Me: What?
Carmen: Cleaning thing.
Me: Ok. It's a cleaning thing, isn't it? It's called a vacuum cleaner, isn't it? Yes. Have we got a vacuum cleaner? What does Pepi use when she comes to clean?
Carmen: A vacuum cleaner.
Me: Yes. But what does it do when she switches it on? What noides it make?
Carmen: Oooooooooooooooooooooo.
Me: That's right. (laughs) Yes.

Example audio 10...

Me: ...slide. Ok. What are these?
Carmen: Swings.
Me: Swings.
Carmen: A kite!
Carmen: Right.
Carmen: What's the matter?
Me: Why? What do you mean what's the matter?
Carmen: What's the matter with this one?
Me: He's looking a bit angry, isn't he?
Carmen: Why?
Me: Is his kite flying? Where is it?
Carmen: In the... in the... floor.
Me: The floor... on the ground. Yes, it's not flying, is it? That's why he's angry.
Carmen: I want the kite.
Me: You want a kite. Yes. We haven't got a kite, have we? I'll probably buy you one this winter. Do you go to parks?
Carmen: With Sofia.*
Me: With Sofia? We went, we went to a lovely park, didn't we? Last weekend. What did you...?
Carmen: A slide.
Me: on? You went on the slide? Yes.

*Carmen's best friend.

Example audio 11...

Me: What's he doing? Ah! Right! He's got a... You're covering your nose, aren't you? Because he's got a snorkel and a mask on. Have you got a sn... mask? Eh? For swimming? You've got a little one, haven't you? What are those called?
Carmen: Goggles.
Me: Goggles. Yeah. Goggles. What's the little girl doing here?
Carmen: He catch a crab.
Me: Catching a crab? Yes. What's she got in her hand?
Carmen: A red*
Me: A what? A n... n... n...
Carmen: A knife.
Me: A knife? Ne... ne... ne...
Carmen: A net
Me: A net. Got a net, yes.
Carmen: And what's she doing...? Ahh! (points to something else)
Me: What's that?
Carmen: Crab.
Me: Crab. Yes. And what's he doing? What's he making?
Carmen: Castle.
Me: S... s... s...
Carmen: Sandcastle!
Me: Sandcastle. Right.

*"Red" the Spanish word for fishing net; an English word Carmen used frequently during the summer. Lexis seems to quickly drift to the back of the mind unless activities like these can recall it.

In this following example, we are repeating a game of marbles we played for the first time the day before. The first time we played, I introduced some new words: "flick", "roll the marble", etc.

Example audio 12...

Me: What did you say?
Carmen: Can you play the game you play(ed) yesterday?*
Me: The game we played yesterday? Right. Um. The marbles game?
Carmen: First, you put this one, this one and this one...
Me: Right.
Carmen: ...and this, and here. (????)
Me: Put that one on top. Right. We've got to knock the... eh... cosher...
Carmen: Yes.
Me: those... stack of marbles.
Carmen: Yes.
Me: Yes. Right. So do you remember the words for..? What's this? What the word for when you do this? What's this?
Carmen: Throw it.
Me: What's... when you do this? Fl... fl... fl...
Carmen: Flap. Flapping!*
Me: Fli... fli... fli...
Carmen: Flip!
Me: Flip or flick?
Carmen: Flick!
Me: Flick. Yes. It's flicking, isn't it? You flick the marble, don't you?
Carmen: My marbles!
Me: You flick the marble or you go like thiWat is it if you go like this? It's r... r... r...
Carmen: Roll!
Me: Roll! That's right. Roll the marble. That's it!

*Notice the self-correction here. Carmen corrects herself to the gerund (flapping). Swain mentioned self-correction as one of the benefits of output. Carmen's choice of the gerund also demonstrates an emerging knowledge of English grammar!

Technique 9: keep it fun!

However well or badly your child seems to be responding to your attempts to produce second language output, refrain from taking everything too seriously (as I sometimes do!). Do not be a Captain Ahab and push your crew too far or you may find you have mutiny on your hands. Learning and using English should be related to the idea of fun and strong interest in the world. Whenever you detect tiredness or boredom setting in, drop the activity and do something less taxing. However, I suggest never stop using English. Your English (or the child's second language) input should be a constant from which your child can contemplate no alternative. Bond yourself to the language.

child drawing 10 

In this final example, I insist much too much in a line of questioning Carmen has completely lost interest in. As a result, she rebels by refusing to speak English. Fortunately, she has a better sense of humour that her father and her protest proves hilarious for both of us.

The snails have escaped - again...

Example audio 13...

Carmen / Me: (laughing)
Me: How do you say that in English though?
Carmen: I don't know.
Me: What do you mean exactly? So...
Carmen: Pronto! pronto...! (Italian)
Me: The snails were in the bag, right?
Carmen: ¡Mira! ¡Mira! (Spanish)
Me: The snails were in the bag. Yes or no?
Carmen: Pronto! pronto! Sono la mamma! (Italian)*
Me: (laughs) All right! Well! The snails were in the bag...
Carmen: Buongiorno! (Italian) Comment ça va? (French)*
Me: (laughs) That's the wrong language, you! I want English here!
Carmen / me: (laugh)

*Carmen got the Italian from my beginner's Italian course I listen to in the car. The French is from an episode of Peppa Pig when Peppa telephones her friend in France. I consider this a total language mutiny!

If you would like to comment on this article or talk about your own experiences, you can at our bilingual child forum in English or Spanish...

Next article: Sentence production...



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