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How to Bolster Budding Language Skills

To prepare for the activities below, find and use examples from your selected books, cassettes, videos, CDs and Internet resources.

  • Listen to a song sung in another language. The cadence and rhythm of music are echoed in language, and native singers melodiously model proper pronunciation. Play a song several times as she helps you make lunch or feed the dog. After several days you will probably be singing the chorus together. Find an excellent selection of Arabic songs in the music CD entitled, Cairo to Casablanca: An Arabic Musical Odyssey, published by Putumayo World Music in 1998.

  • Count aloud the proper amount of string beans for dinner, in Swahili. The Swahili numbers and pronunciations from zero to ten are sifuri (see-foo-ree), moja (mo-jah), mbili (m-bee-lee), tatu (tah-too), nne (nay), tano (tah-no), sita (see-tah), saba (sah-bah), nane (nah-nay), tisa (tee-sah), and kumi (koo-mee). When she's comfortable, she might join you in counting how many mateless socks there are in the laundry basket.

  • Play pick-up-sticks in Spanish. This game not only introduces a foreign language but helps Claudia strengthen fine motor coordination for handwriting, using scissors, and pinching her little brother. As she jiggles a stick or retrieves it successfully, say the color aloud, in Spanish. Some Spanish color names and pronunciations are red: rojo (ro-ho); blue: azul (ah-sool); green: verde (vair-day); white: blanco (blahn-koh); black: negro (neg-roh); yellow: amarillo (ah-ma-ree-yo); orange: naranja (na-ran-ha); purple: morado (moh-ra-doh); and pink: rosado (ro-sah-dough).

  • To aid her memory of new vocabulary words, get her physically involved in the new language. Point to the pizza in front of her and say, "Pizza," and then point to her mouth and make chewing motions and say, "Mangia! " As she chews on a big, gooey piece, say "mangia pizza!" meaning "You eat pizza!" in Italian. At the grocery store, put an apple in her hands and say in Italian, "Mela" (maylah). Then, print a label that says, "I sit" in Italian: siedo (see-yay-dough). Holding the "siedo" sign against your chest, sit in a chair and slowly say, "Siedo in la sedia." Make a label that says, "I jump" in Italian: salto(saal-toe). Then jump up and down. Make one for run, catch, and pinch, and do the actions as you say the words. Getting her body involved increases retention by helping her associate the muscle movements with the words.

  • Use a recent close-up photo of her or a family member to show Claudia the parts of her face in a foreign language. In Italian, some facial features are eye: occhio (okk-yo); nose: nasso (nah-so); mouth: bocca (boh-ka); and chin: mento (men-toe).

  • Eat lunch in a Japanese restaurant and order some foods in Japanese. Be sure to let your server in on your language lesson. Many are only too happy to become teachers, too. Many common food words were adapted from English. Soup: supu; chop: choppu; sauce: sosa; salad: sarada; lemon: remon; and dessert; dezato.

  • Shop at a Chinese grocery store. The sights, conversation, and colorful letters on the signage will give Claudia a sensory introduction to a delicious part of Chinese culture: the food. Discover new vegetables together like a long, brown root we call burdock but the Chinese call "gobo (go-bo)." A trip down the dessert aisle will show her that Chinese kids love sweets, too, especially fat steamed buns called "mántóu (man toh)."

  • If possible, take Claudia on a trip to a non-English-speaking country. Let her see that another language isn't a foreign thing at all, merely the unique sounds people use to communicate to each other their feelings, needs, and desires. Teach her a few words she can use to greet hotel or restaurant staff.


From Teacher Says by Evelyn Porreca Vuko. Copyright © 2004. Used by arrangement with Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

If you'd like to buy this book, visit amazon.com or click on the book cover.

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