When I read about a Korean grandpa who, for lack of face to face communication with his grandchildren, told them stories by means of virtual tools, and became a star of the internet – I realized that I could have become a star too… since that is something I do with my grandchildren as well (I bet many other grandparents do it too), and for the same reason – being far away. Skype and other virtual tools become substitutes for real connection and provide additional venues for widening exposure to language and culture.
Michelle’s expressive language is getting better every day – for now, the gains are more tangible in French. And no wonder – she has had more exposure and opportunities to interact in her ‘father tongue’. We are happy because these new competencies demonstrate the development of her general linguistic ability. Great! Still we are looking for ways to support the ‘roots and shoots’ of her other languages. So we supplement her ‘mother tongue’ by telling stories on Skype. I emphasize the art of storytelling because through oral language we also support many cognitive and emotional skills, the development of a child’s imagination, natural curiosity, the skill of listening and attention span.
Even though, as a rule, adults are able to improvise, it is a good idea to have a few stories ready before a Skype session. I usually make use of stories from ‘when I was little’ – how I went mushroom picking with my grandpa or how we found and saved a bird with my grandma. I retell folk tales, or make up adventure stories, often with ‘to be continued’ remark at the end of the session. Sometimes we talk about a recipe for a favorite kind of food or a salad I made last night, naming ingredients and giving cooking instructions. These conversations contribute to learning new vocabulary along with new concepts, and add to grammatical complexity of Michelle’s language, both receptive and expressive, and of course help maintain the emotional connection between the listener and the storyteller. I look back at my early days and begin to appreciate more and more my grandma who told and retold stories to generations of her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
Virtual communication is the best substitute for none at all, but of course we long for real face to face talk. Time to make travel plans!