Saturday, December 17, 2011

CHOGM - Raising awareness on bilingualism

The most important event for Perth in 2011 was undoubtedly the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting or CHOGM that happened during the end of October. More than 50 Commonwealth leaders and the Queen visited and ensured the program was splendid. Arts, sports and culture featured alongside many official meetings. The outcome was a long statement titled: Time for urgent reform.

One of the strengths of the Commonwealth is the bond through the common law and a common language. The Commonwealth is  CELEBRATING
the shared experiences of history and language [Harare, par.3], similar institutions and aspirations and including peoples of many different races and origins, encompassing every state of economic development and comprising an unequalled variety of races, origins, cultures, religions, traditions and institutions of the world [Harare, par.(2)].

The only reform that found entrance into the media was the announcement that the rules for succession were now changed to allow a first born girl to become queen, abolishing the requirement for a male ruler.

Realising that the Commonwealth is overlooking the asset and strength of the diversity of languages  of its member states I took the opportunity to raise the issue of bilingualism at the CHOGM Speaker's Corner established in the People's Space in the Northbridge cultural precinct. The stage was removed from the audience by a water feature, but about 80-100 people sat on the amphitheatre steps and listened more or less attentively.
The terms and conditions had to be met and I had to outline the topic of my talk when applying for a time slot. I took the first slot after lunch on Friday 28 October to tell the world about the benefits of having more than one language. Starting with my own experiences I outlined the benefits and strategies of raising children in more than one language.
It was a bit daunting at first to talk before that many people, but my passion about the subject took over and the allocated 15 minutes passed in a flash.

I am pleased that I took the opportunity and hope that the world has taken notice. Unfortunately the queen was busy otheerwise and Colin Barnett was not available too, but still, I did my share. It was good fun too!
To change the monolingual mindset we need to grab any opportunity that arises to tell the story and make a convincing argument. Don't be shy, join in and promote the benefits of knowing more than one language!
And there were other messages too, such as this one on the steps os the auditorium opposite the speaker's corner!

Monday, November 7, 2011

Promoting the study of language through culture

Mount Lawley Senior High School is one of the schools in Perth which have a special languages program under the title Gifted and Talented Education (GATE). I have been involved in their Languages Parent Support Group since my second child entered the program at the start of this year.

The most recent event at the school was organising an Oktoberfest at the end of term 3. There was cake and Bretzeln, there were Bratwuerste and Sauerkraut to sample.

I still have a traditional German costume (Tracht) from the Harz mountains which I made myself during a stint in a German folk club during the late eighties. I was surprised that it still fit me. Putting it on I joined in the festivities by playing more or less traditional German songs on the accordeon.
The year 10 GATE class is the last class to study German under the GATE program. The program has in the past two years been limited to students of Chinese and Italian.

The students were able helpers and many people had a go at the German language tongue twisters, putting the attempts on video. This class under their relief teacher Isabella also collated great displays on the origin of the Octoberfest and the fate of the Berlin wall.

All in all it was a phantastic day.

Learning the language through getting a glimpse at the culture increases motivation and is a good taster. If you like it you probably want some more. Sustaining the motivation of language students is a major factor in the success of the language learning.

Building bridges with ethnic providers, such with the Perth German magazine 'Treffpunkt WA' is another piece in the mocaic of successful language learning.

The many sponsors for cakes, bretzels and saussages demonstrated that ethnic culture is alive and thrieving.

Congratulations to the school for putting such an event on the agenda. And special congratulation to the language teacher Isabella for getting everything together and to the parents for volunteering on the day.

I think we are getting better at promoting language and culture and spreading the word about how beneficial it is to learn a second language! Let's do just that!

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Never sing to strangers in a language you don't know well?

As  German living in Australia I have been a member of an Australian multicultural a capella choir for many years. It was very difficult for us to learn the first Japanese song. Our choir leader chose the well know Japanese children song: Genkotsu Yama No Tanuki San which she was taught by a Japanese friend. This was hard work, not only because the words were so different, but as well because the harmonies were unused to our ears as we learnt it set in three part harmonies. It took us about a year to master the song.
Around that time I attended an international women's conference in Perth and at the opening cocktail party spotted a lady wearing what I thought was a traditional Japanese dress. I went straight for her and without much introduction proudly sang her my newly acquired Japanese children song. She smiled broadly when she responded: "Thank you very much, but I am from Korea." I blushed and shook her hand warmly in a very German fashion, vowing never to sing to a stranger ever again.

The singing in other languages is good for the brain, it gives you a challenge not easy to master, as the words need to be remembered and the music often has a differet tune that is not used to our ears.

The choir now sings in about 15 community languages and we understand that all learning takes time. However, we cherish the rewards and meanwhile sing another Japanese songs easily. 

And my promise to never sing a foreign language song to strangers went out of te window a few weeks ago as well, as I met a friendly Ukrainian speaker at a 50th birthday party. I sang him a Ukrainian song Oj U Hurodi  and he could even understand that it was about a woman plucking rose petals in a garden. Never say never! I am proud to be able to sing songs in many languages.

Listen to a few of our multicultural songs on youtube. From this Greek song we only know the first verse. It's a happy new year song Tria Caravaggia about three boats arriving with golden sails to bring three girls and the luck for the new year. We are keen on singing the rest of the song. It must have a lot more verses. But both my attempts to find the song through my Greek speaking dentist and a Greek friend from the soccer club failed. Who can help?

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Helping children to make friends - Tips for parents of newly arrived migrants

I got a call this morning from the mother of a 10year old Chinese speaking girl who has only recently arrived in Australia. After a short period at her local primary school they have transferred the girl's schooling due to her lack of English skills into an ESL school, a few kilometres away from her home.

The mother is worried that her daughter did not make any friends yet. From her cultural upbringing the girl is not an outgoing person and she would not speak to anybody on her own account. The mother rang me with the aim to find out how to help her daughter make friends.

My first suggestion was to give her as much support as possible with the English learning. Once her English has improved she can move back into her local school and connect with children who live close around her.

I also suggested to enrol her daughter into a sports class after school where she would move and exercise and have an opportunity to meet new people. Benefits of physical activity are clearly demonstrated.
Kids in Perth is a free paper that shows events for children around the metropolitan area, sorted by date. It also has a few informative articles about raising children. The other free paper for parents in Perth is Perth's Child, although I am a bit worried about this magazine, as they suggest a cake and make-up as a perfect 12year old birthday pamper party.

Facebook nowadays connects most teenagers.
Social networking sites such as facebook would be a way to connect a high school child with 'friends". From my own teenagers I noticed that mainly their friends are people the know from school and the list grows around that group to include former school friends and people they know through sports programs. I allowed my children to publish a facebook profile under the condition that they include myself as one of their friends. This is working well as I can look at their profile and see what's going on without intruding too much into their privacy. I also noticed that they use facebook to communicate about school projects, due homework and for arranging visits.

Finally, Bilingual Families Perth offers to publish any friend request for children to practice English or the mother tongue in its website with the aim to connect people across cultures. Best is to get in touch via e-mail.

Having arrived in Perth as a new migrant with children poses lots of challenges and assisting your child in making friends is probably not a high point on the agenda for your family. Many of the proposed strategies need money, although the state government has vowed to help families with getting their children into physical activity if they do not have the funds. I understand that the financial support will be paid out directly to the sports club for children in need.

Please comment and share your suggestions for children of newly arrived migrants to make friends. I am looking forward to your posts.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

The first month of learning Chinese

Learning a language at home by yourself is not easy. It takes a lot of experience to establish a learning routine that it tailored to your abilities and then a lot motivation to stick to your learning routine. I guess it is easier to learn with a bunch of people and meet regularly to practice and practice. I have not established such processes and I begin to see that I need them.

Xin Mao - Year of the Rabbit

My boy got a very useful schedule at school that outlines the teaching and learning activities for each week of his Chinese Language learning. The schedule identifies the text type and linguistic resources, the Chinese charqcters introduced and the way how the his progress is assessed.

Part of his journey is intercultural understanding. the children lean about China, how to respectfully address a person and how to communicate well. They also celebrate the festivals as they happen, such as Chinese New Year. They got presents, special food and money. This resulted in high motivation. What a change in comparison to the old way ot learning languages. How far our education system has come! I feel grateful to experience this journey as part of a public school in Western Australia!

My own learning journey has followed his learning. I now can say the numbers until 10, although he can count to hundred and also write the numbers. I can ask for a person's name and respond telling my name and asking how that other person is. Not a bad start, but a long way to go! At times we practice together and I am happy that I can help him with the homework when he is stuck.

Today when he was playing playstation he sung me a Chinese song, replicated the sounds and the melody beautifully. And I did not even ask him to do so, he just started sining out of his own soul while still being focused on playing his game. I felt honoured to witness that and it motivated me to learn a Chinese song. He said the song was about a jasmine flower.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Favourite Video for March 2011

Chinese Language Learning Resources


1. 24/7 TUTOR is a learning system and mobile language lab that allows you to study, practice and review a foreign language, anytime and anywhere. several languages available including Chinese.

2.Learn Chinese online for free at Free Chinese online courses for you to learn how to read and write Chinese.

3. Learning Chinese - Websites for learning Chinese

4. Learn Chinese - Free online mandarin audio courses
Free online mandarin audio courses. Learn Mandarin Chinese quickly and easily! 40 online lessons with audio, including reading, speaking, writing, ...

5. BBC offers listening, speaking and writing exercises

6. Chinese - SurvivalPhrases, by, delivered as podcast through iTunes

7. Other podcasts with Chinese lessons - through iTunes
(This link will only work if your iTunes program is installed on your computer and already open.)

8. Learn Chinese with Yanyang - videos and other free resources

9.Chinese Language Learning Links - this wikispace has lots of further links for learners of Chinese

10. Language Links 2006 - another wikispace that has a plethora of links for the students of Chinese

11.Learn Chinese Everyday is a website for people who are interested in learning Chinese.
You can find a lot of categories for learning Chinese, eg. Conversation, Grammar, Vocabulary, Exercise, Daily Word.
12. Links from -

*Chinese: Rutgers Multimedia Chinese Teaching System
*Chinese: Conversational Mandarin Chinese Online
*Chinese: Learn Chinese
*Chinese: Chinese Tools - Learn Chinese
*Chinese: Online College of Chinese Language
*Chinese: ZapChinese
*Chinese: Chinese (Mandarin) - Wikibooks
*Chinese: Linese
*Chinese: Mandarin Chinese with Serge Melnyk
*Chinese: I Love Chinese
*Chinese: ClearChinese: Learn Chinese
*Chinese: Chinese Phrases for Travelers
*Chinese: Learn Mandarin
*Chinese: World Learner Chinese

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Stop learning a language, start speaking it!

In my internet travels I came across the Lifehacker Blog. This blog refers to Language Hackers. One story tells is about a woman who did not speak anhything else but English when she was 21 years old. In the following seven years she learnt to speak another eight languages fluently. The blog argues that the key to actually learning a foreign language is to actually apply it.

Makes sense to me. The blog refers to Zenhabits -Simple Guide to speaking foreign languages. This site is full of tips and makes your mouth watery for language learning. Here is only a small selection of the tips mentioned:

Rather than downloading podcasts and buying too many courses, meet up with actual people and use the language! A few resources I like to use include:
  • for language meet-ups in major cities. You can also read advertisements in newspapers and your local library to see if people meet up interested in speaking the language you want to.
  • Join Couchsurfing and host foreign travelers in your home. The same site also has international meetings and a feature to search your city for people who speak a particular language.
  • You can also find native speakers online and practice over Skype, through many language learning social networks available for free online.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

First week of learning Chinese

The first week of learning Chinese has passed. I can count until five and say hello as well as thankyou in Chinese. I am proud but at the same time surprised how long it took me to get this far.

The last language I learnt - apart from a few words in languages on the way - was Indonesian. From 1986 or 1987 I had tuition at university after my law degre. I attended lectures of South-East Asian Studies. Learning a language was part of the course and still is. I had a choice between Thai, Vietnamese and Indonesian then. Indonesian was the obvious choice, as I had travelled to Sumatra and Malaysia the year before and that's where my interest for the area and further studies originated from.

We progressed fast and I remember well the only sentence in our christmas play that, being only two months into the language studies, we presented to surprise our inspiring teacher Professor Bernhard Dahm: "Apakah kaju sudah dipotong Mario? Anak kita kedinginan!". By the way, last year Prof Dahm received the  Dr. Jose Rizal Awards for Philippine-German Cultural Relations.  I ended up learning Indonesian quite easily and later even worked as a junior lawyer in Jakarta. It was a speedy journey studying Indonesian for about two years only.

Another incident is in my mind from around the same time. We used the hot weekends in Jakarta in 1989 for bush walking in the hills. One time we were in Bandung walking down the Tangkuban Perahu, the active volcano just north of the city. I met some French travellers and wanting to speak French with them I was unable to remember any words. Out came only the Indonesian words that my brain must have saved straight on top of the French vocabulary. This has changed by now, more than 20 years later. I think the brain had ample time to sort out the parking in the memory area.

This is the first time I started learning a language in isolation. It is more difficult than I thought and I am lucky to have a school aged boy, who learns that language at school, to be my saviour. He reinforces the little progress I have made and asks me to help him in return as well. Yesterday we went to the beach for sunset and we drew Chinese numbers into the sand.

However, this it looks like I need a more competent teacher and other strategies must be looked at. Still, language learning is fun!

Sunday, February 20, 2011

International Mother Language Day 2011

Today is International Mother Language Day. It's the 12th time this International Day is celebrated worldwide. The Day is very special to the Bangla speakers, as it originates in the Language Movement Day, which has been commemorated in Bangladesh (formerly East Pakistan) since 1952. In that year a number of University of Dhaka students were killed by the Pakistani police and army in Dhaka during Bengali Language Movement protests.

The main celebrations in 2011 be held in Paris. Theme is  "The information and communication technologies for the safeguarding and promotion of languages and linguistic diversity".

The Language Challenge 101 from Bilingual Families Perth fits spot on into the theme, as people are encouraged to learn languages using information and communication technologies, such as the internet and other digital media.

Today is my first day of learning Mandarin. I had a bit of a peak in the lead-up to the commencement and assisted collating several useful links:
I have started by selecting the most suitable site for my needs. I will learn Chinese with Yangyang. My boy brought the link home from school. 10 free lessons are up on the web that suit my learning style, progress fast enough. Yangyang is great, funny, to the point and easy to understand.  A list of other useful Chinese sites is up on the project Wiki.

Can't wait and have decided to make time of at least 15min a day for the learning of Mandarin, my new language!

Monday, February 7, 2011

Favourite video for February 2011

Language Challenge 101

The Language Challenge 101 down under is born. My personal commitment to learning Mandarin has provided enough motivation for a project that aims at getting more people interested in language learning.
Bilingual Families Perth will host the project, participation is free and more information is available from their website.  

Language learning is fun and not that hard when you do it at your own pace, within your own means but with the support of friendly people who are on the same journey.
  • Have you ever wanted to learn a language but could never gather enough motivation?
  • Would you like to make a serious attempt in learning the language of your partner, your parent or your friend?
  • Are you planning a holiday overseas and want to be able to hold a small conversation?
  • Would you like to refresh knowledge of a language you spoke or learnt in your childhood?
  • Are you interested in picking up a language that was once spoken in your family but is now lost?
  • Would you like to join your child who learns a second (or third) language at school? 
Please show your support by filling in a survey. Consider your participation. Learning languages by yourself is a bit daunting but if you have the support of other learners and can share free resources it is a lot easier.  What language you chose is up to you and there is no cost. The only thing you need is a working internet connection and that is often available at your local library.

The project is kicking off on International Motherlanguage Day 2011 -21 February! More information about the project Language Challenge 101 here.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Learning Chinese

My boy was accepted into the Gifted and Talented Education (GATE) Academic Languages Program at Mount Lawley Senior High School. School commences next week and we are getting ready through purchasing uniforms and school books.

My daughter has been a participant in this program in the past two years, going into year 10 now. She had the luck of being allowed to learn two languages since year 8. Tuition in German is part of the GATE program and she chose Italian as other language within the normal school curriculum. She is doing well and received highest marks for both languages, most likely assisted by the fact that we speak German at home.

Since 2010 only one language can be selected  by students in the GATE  program and there is only a choice between Italian or Chinese. As my boy has been learning Italian in Primary School for seven years and still cannot say much more than his name, age and what he likes doing after school, he decided to learn Chinese. He is a bit weary about this journey, especially since his sister told him that many students complain about how hard it is to learn Chinese.

I have been interested in the Chinese language since a trip to Hongkong and Guangzhou in 1985. I spent two weeks with a friend in Kowloon. To overcome important language barriers with cab drivers I was taught to say in Cantonese: "Please drive me to Kenedy Road number 37, at number 31 please turn right". I have never forgotten this sentence and practice it now and then with Cantonese speakers I meet in my life. Not always successful I might say, as my pronunciation surely changed significantly in the past 25 years with the experience in Hongkong beconing more and more faint. Also my teacher was a non-native speaker.

German is my mother tongue. Plattdeutsch or Low German, a dialect was spoken in our house during my childhood. I learnt English from year 5 and French from year 7 at school, later added some Iitalian in evening school as I liked the Italian life style and spent a few holidays there. At University after my law degree I studied Indonesian and even worked as a junior lawyer for the German Indonesian Chamber of Trade and Commerce (Berkumpulan Ekonomi Indonesia-Jerman) in the late Eighties. But all these languages are using the same script and work in a similar frame of mind. If a German speaker reads aloud an Indonesian text and pronounces each word as if it was written in German, an Indonesian speaker is able to understand what was said.

My decision to join Miles in learning Mandarin came from the heart. I will purchase the same workbook and use additional sites on the internet to speed up my speaking. My friend Dr Mandy Scott from Canberra has been involved in the Association for Learning Mandarin in Australia. She visited us with her mother on the last weekend and we had a chat about how hard it is to learn the language. Apparently the time to aquire comfortable language speaking levels have been estimated and contemplated for English speakers. People agree that Mandarin is among the most difficult to learn languages.

But I suspect that in our case the advantage of already knowing and speaking more than one language will be significant. Also I understand that the grammar of Mandarin is simple. However, the focus of tuition on acquisition of written literacy seems to be the difficulty for new students. If we keep up the conversation in our practice we should be right. Also my daughter's best friend is a native Mandarin speaker and we can get special tuition from her.

We have a plan and encouraging experiences are available from across the ocean. Multilingual Living, a network of multilingual people based in Seattle. They ran the Language Challenge -101 where people were learning a new language over 101 days. They had many participants and their experiences are documented on the website. People had fun learning another language, within their own setting and at their own pace.

This is an inspiring idea. I missed the boat that time but am now determined to take the chance and give it a good shot! I promise to post updates of the journey on this blog. If anybody wants to join me?! We just copy the model from Multilingual Living and give it a go! I am in it and will give it my best shot!