Native Language @ ISB

Entries Tagged as 'Mother tongue at home'

21 beneficios de leer en voz alta

March 12th, 2019 · No Comments

21 benefits of reading aloud. Without looking at the image below, how many can you name? 

Many of us know, but forget, how valuable it is to read aloud daily to children—even teens. A 21-day challenge this month aims to help families remember. To take part, visit the Read Aloud 21-Day Challenge.

And . . . 

 21 Benefits of Reading Aloud (en español)

Tags: Mother tongue at home

Ask Olga! Early Literacy in Three Languages

February 28th, 2019 · 1 Comment

A moment of precious time with our grandchildren: pencils and paper, puzzles and activity books, scissors and glue are scattered about the table. Michelle draws an object of her imagination: a special vacuum cleaner. She draws arrows and labels different parts of the device. Then she gives her drawing a title. She admires her work—the writing is a mix of Cyrillic and Latin scripts. She sometimes finds it easier to write words in the Russian Cyrillic alphabet, with its near-perfect letter-sound correspondence.

Drawing labeled in both Cyrillic and Latin scripts.

Michelle is taking her first steps toward literacy. We tried hard to prepare her for these moments. She has been read to extensively, and she has been learning letters through various games and activities. She knows letters in three languages: Russian, French and English. She is beginning to read simple books in English at school and to write phonetically.

We have anticipated this stage, and now it’s exciting to watch how engaged and focused she is.

Along with excitement come worries.

Languages are written in different ways, sometimes with no similarities at all, and sometimes with similarities that confuse. Children must figure out how letters and signs of different scripts work together to form words and sentences in each language.

Should we encourage Michelle to read and write in all three languages at the same time? Should we wait and let her develop skills in the language of her educational setting, which is English, before attempting to introduce literacy skills in French and Russian?

Many parents have to answer these questions and address these worries. Research on this matter is not prescriptive; it does not supply a clear recommendation or a timeline for learning multiple literacies. What it does say, is that learning to read and write in one language will make it easier to learn to read and write in another, as many reading and writing skills are universal. Research also cautions against disregard for the child’s interest and motivation. Frustration in learning to read and write, which some children experience, might signal some general difficulties in learning, rather than the effect of multilingualism.

On the positive side, the simultaneous approach has great potential for broadening the learner’s perspective on literacy, making comparisons, analyzing more deeply the structural elements of each language, and understanding the purposes and cultural aspects of reading and writing.

Indeed, literacy in several languages can be the key to vast linguistic and cultural resources and the foundation of globally-minded learning. It gives access to diverse knowledge and worldviews.

Two months after labeling her vacuum cleaner, Michelle reads a book in English that she has brought home from school. She is “sounding out” letters and reading simple words on a page. Then she has an idea. “Mama, I will now read this book in Russian,” she says. “I will read the words quietly in my head, in English, and then say them in Russian.” And she does. 

Another day, Michelle creates a text, a recipe for her panda’s favorite soup. She announces the purpose of her writing clearly, in Russian, and then begins to write in English, saying the words slowly but recording with amazing fluency. 

Soup for a panda. Ingredients: two eggs, two bowls of flour, five sticks of bamboo, and one pot of milk and water.

And so, Michelle’s English literacy gains ground. We wait for an opportunity to infuse Russian and French. We know we need to proceed in ways appropriate for a five-year-old.  “The most common mistake people make is to ask for too much too soon.” I came upon this recommendation once for training cats—but somehow it fits perfectly within any learning context! So we are patient, and we take small steps. The same source notes, “If a behavior results in something the [learner] likes, she will do it again.”

As grandparents, we are now planning for our next visit with Michelle and her brother Maxim. Here are a few thoughts on our next steps to support their engagement with literacy.

  • Be ready with a few vocabulary games and activities. Reading can be a source of frustration when a text has too many unknown words.
  • Create short, engaging stories together, modelling writing.
  • Start a daily journal with the children.
  • Write cards and letters to family and friends.
  • Maintain a supply of books in their languages—books with simple text for independent reading, and books with more complex language for reading aloud to the children.
  • Collect stamps, postcards, labels and other objects with print in their languages.
  • Engage children in letter and word sorting games to differentiate different scripts—especially looking for letters that are “the same but different.”
  • Create name cards in multiple languages.
  • Have conversations about literacy.

Recommended reading:

Mother tongue: Why is it important for education?

Tags: Ask Olga! · Mother tongue at home

Raising Multilinguals “How?” A Followup Workshop

February 5th, 2019 · No Comments

How can parents nurture native language besides speaking it with their children and enrolling them in classes? Find out by joining us on February 21 for a new workshop: Raising Multilinguals How? Unlocking the World Through Language-Rich Experiences.

In this workshop, a followup to Raising Multilinguals, we will explore how families can promote literacy (reading and writing) and rich conversation, in support of the family language plan.

Parents of students in PreK through Grade 12 are welcome. The workshop will be held in the MS/HS Library’s Literary Lounge. February 21 is also International Mother (Native) Language Day, so mark your calendar and join us to celebrate! If you have questions, please write:

Tags: Family Language Plan · Mother tongue at home · Parent Workshops

Danke schön and auf Wiedersehen to a Middle School German Teacher

December 3rd, 2018 · No Comments

Sabine Lingenfelder, teacher of ISB’s after-school MS German class, will teach her final session this week as she and her family prepare to move back to Germany. She has taught on ISB’s campus since September 2017.

Ms. Lingenfelder answered a few questions about her plans, her life, and her tips for maintaining German while at ISB:

Where have you grown up and spent your life?

I grew up in the middle part of Germany in a very small village—absolutely countryside, close to the former border between the two parts of Germany, but surrounded by fabulous nature (green hills, a small river, meadows, a lot of animals, etc.).

After my school career in 1992 I moved to Gießen  (still in the  middle of Germany but 100 km from my home) to study education, biology and chemistry at the Justus-Liebig-University. After my examination in 1998, I started my teaching career in the subjects biology and chemistry.

From 2001 I worked in a Gymnasium (an advanced or high-level school) with students from Grade 5 to 13 in Eltville, close to Wiesbaden, about 50 km away from Frankfurt. This school is located in—I’m not exaggerating—the nicest area you can find in Germany! We have a lot of vineyards and one of the major rivers of Germany, the Rhine River; my school was located in one of the towns along the Rhine. Some villages away, my husband and I built a cozy home for ourselves and our children 10 years ago! It’s a fantastic area to bring kids up.

What are your fields of specialty and your interests/hobbies?

I love to read: science magazines as well as historical literature and biographical books.

In recent years I have developed a deep interest in establishing a healthy lifestyle. As a biology teacher, I taught this content as part of our curriculum in Germany. But if you want to inform students authentically and correctly, you have to be well informed yourself. So, wherever I can find information, I try to soak it up and integrate it into my personal life (but that was and is the hardest part!).

I also like to paint and do handicrafts, especially Christmas/Easter/holiday card-making. And while I’ve been in Nichada, I have had time to move my body more than ever by running, sometimes biking and doing workouts.

What have you enjoyed about teaching German at ISB?

Teaching at ISB is far away from teaching at a German public school. Of course, I have been in a different situation after-school compared with those who teach during the day (I assume). But I have enjoyed being able to focus on working with the students, and not having all the formal responsibilities that one must usually fulfil. The students at ISB have been amazing. They have made it so easy to teach them, even more so since I was used to teaching a different subject. I have loved teaching in one room, where I could leave my stuff and didn’t move materials from class to class. That’s so convenient. And although I really liked my school in Germany—the students there and my colleagues—the atmosphere here is relaxed, the students have been alert and kind, and the same goes for every staff member at ISB that I have had contact with.

What are three tips for ISB families trying to maintain their children’s native language?

  • Continue speaking the native language at home, even when English is much easier for the kids.
  • Read books at a level that fits children’s language skills. It’s not easy, I know, because their intellectual level might be higher than their language level. To find books that do not use lots of sophisticated expressions, but still offer topics that kids enjoy at their age, can be quite complicated. But the reading can help a lot to maintain and increase their language level.
  • What I also did with our kids: watch German TV !

Deepest thanks to Ms. Lingenfelder for her work with ISB students. She will be succeeded in her role by Christine (Tina) Klempin from January 2019.

Tags: Mother tongue at home · Native Language at ISB

Ask Olga! What’s In an Accent?

October 31st, 2018 · No Comments

“We be of one blood, ye and I,” said Mowgli, quickly giving the Snake’s Call.

“Down hoods all,” said half a dozen low voices.

—Excerpt from The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling

My family has had a great summer and fall. So full of children and chatter, stories and fun! My granddaughter Michelle has just turned five, and her little brother, Maxim, is three. He is joining in the linguistic adventures—she takes the leading role and he follows her lead, repeating everything she says. So far, brother and sister mostly converse with each other in Russian, one of their shared home languages. We laugh at the ways five- and three-year-old use, mix, modify and reorganize our adult phrases in their play.

Our ears also pick up that they speak Russian, one of their native languages, with an accent. They do not sound quite like their monolingual Russian-speaking peers.

So we begin to wonder if this is something we should ignore, or something we should address in order to “correct.” Is it something that will develop and adjust spontaneously? Does it even matter whether they speak differently?

We look for answers to these questions, dive into available research and parental experience, always looking back at our initial goals and visions, revisiting and re-evaluating our understandings, judgments, insights.

We know that accents, or ways people sound, are very much part of the linguistic landscape around the world.  Sounds of speech are like colors and tastes; they tap into our feelings and memories, our perceptions and stereotypes. They also signal social bonding and facilitate understanding. They are hard to ignore.

We all have our personal accents, or micro-accents, in our native languages, but we know that typically accents will be a clue to where people live and grew up, or what social group they have been around.

We often develop an accent in a second, or additional, language, when our speech exhibits phonological characteristics of our native tongue.

But my grandchildren’s accent fits a different linguistic profile: it appears to be the result of interplay between their two home languages, Russian and French, and their additional language, English.

Is it even worth worrying about the sounds of their speech? Especially because languages—and accents—are fluid. Accents along with languages evolve and change over time, and the perceptions of accents also evolve across social, cultural and generational groups. The ‘norms’ or ‘proper sounds’ in any language or group are not set in stone.

When we make a language plan for our children, we usually do not include “achieving a desirable accent that reflects our ‘current norm’ or our ‘group norm’ of pronunciation.” Accents seem to be very much part of the diverse linguistic landscape. 

On the other hand, accents can play a role in the way we are understood—in the intelligibility and the quality of our communication; in our ability to adjust, to fit in various social, cultural and linguistic contexts. In the excerpt from The Jungle Book above, being able to sound like a snake allows Mowgli to be trusted and accepted as part of the group. This brilliant fantasy has many insights into human behavior.

Research tells us that accents depend to a large extent on the amount and diversity of exposure to languages. The more time you spend with a particular group, the more you sound like its members. We know that our grandchildren, Michelle and Maxim, are restricted, compared to their monolingual peers, in the amount and variety of exposure they receive to each of their two home languages. Perhaps they will get even less exposure to Russian and French as they enter the UK educational system and spend most of each day with English-speaking teachers and peers. An almost sure way to acquire a “British” accent, whatever that means . . .

So, we can say, fine, we do not have to worry about their accent in their home languages, this is not important, this is a trait of multilingual speech; linguistic proficiency is not measured by an accent, there are more important aspects of language we will focus on. We can only do so much . . . But if we think of multilingualism as an asset, then perhaps we should seek ways to support all aspects of it and provide our children with opportunities to acquire accents that will allow them to function with confidence and flexibility in diverse settings. Just like chameleons change color in response to environmental changes, multilinguals should be able to change their accent in response to a specific social, educational or cultural environment.

To support phonological development of our multilinguals in their home languages we can focus on the sounds of speech through engaging children in various activities:

  • reading, memorizing and reciting poetry;
  • listening to and singing songs;
  • listening to audio books; and
  • reading books—and anything readable—out loud.

We can also:

  • look for and create opportunities for interacting with same-language peers;
  • widen the circle of home language friends so children can be exposed to diverse models;
  • expose children to cultural events, lectures, performances;
  • use home country visits to immerse children in cultural and educational events, family and social gatherings; and
  • look for resources to identify and become aware of differences in speech sounds of different languages, in order to work on articulation/pronunciation.

Finally, consult a multilingual professional if you notice any difficulties with speech production and/or clarity!

At the end of each encounter with our little trilinguals, I always have a feeling of “not enough done, what else could we do?” . . . regrets, successes, new ideas, plans for the future. But of course, no matter what our plans ahead of time are, actual interaction with the children always brings joy and surprises.

Retaining an Accent: Why Some People Retain an Accent in a Second Language

Multilingual Accents

On Bilingual and Monolingual Children and Accents

Columnist Olga Steklova is a retired EAL teacher at ISB and trilingual herself. She shares tips for raising multilingual children as she observes her own grandchildren. To read more columns, click on the Ask Olga! category below.

Tags: Ask Olga! · Mother tongue at home · Websites

Thai Books Available at ES Book Fair

October 4th, 2018 · No Comments

Nothing encourages children to read quite like attractive books, readily available. Today and tomorrow, October 4-5, families have the opportunity to buy Thai-language children’s books as part of the Book Fair in the ES Learning Hub. Open from 7 a.m.-3:30 p.m. today, and 7 a.m-2:30 p.m. tomorrow, the Nai-In stand (above) offers picture books through novels in Thai. Happy shopping!


Tags: Books · Mother tongue at home · Native Language at ISB

A CC Tour of the Netherlands

September 28th, 2018 · No Comments

Room 407 of ISB’s Cultural Center is home to one of the native Dutch classes taught on campus after school. Teacher Saskia Leeuwangh worked with students to turn a wall of the room into a mini-tour of the Netherlands, which shows where she and students are from plus sites of significance.

The use of simple visuals (such as a labeled map) to support language, is a strategy that works in homes as well as at school. Can you think of an expression you learned just by reading a bulletin board or items stuck to a refrigerator?

Tags: Mother tongue at home · Native Language at ISB

Letters to Loved Ones for Respect for the Aged Day

September 17th, 2018 · No Comments

Many multilinguals at ISB will observe special days this week, from Yom Kippur to Respect for the Aged Day. Students in ES morning Japanese enrichment, an activity led by parent volunteers twice weekly, wrote letters to older relatives recently for Respect for the Aged Day. Parents mailed the letters from the ISB Bookstore afterward, and the letters arrived in time for the holiday today, September 17. My children in the program got a big thank-you on Skype last night from a grandparent, who also conveyed thanks from a great-grandparent.

Using language for authentic purposes is a great way to keep multilingual children motivated. Kudos to all parents at ISB who find ways to help kids read, write, and speak with real people in their lives, using language for love. 

Photo above: Notes and envelopes prepared during ES morning Japanese enrichment. The note at upper left says, “Dear Grandma Satoko, Happy Respect for the Aged Day. How are you? Always be well.”

Tags: Mother tongue at home

Ask Olga! The Art (and Fun) of Translation

June 10th, 2018 · 1 Comment

As the 2017-2018 school year comes to an end, we wish you a happy holiday! Olga Steklova sends you off with a column on translation games.

Our young granddaughter Michelle, like most multilingual children, has a natural ability to switch languages and perform simultaneous translation. We were building a sand castle on the beach once for a ‘man-eating monster’—a character from a fairy tale that I was telling Michelle in Russian. As her French-speaking dad emerged from the sea I was mentally getting ready to describe our sand ‘structure’ to him and trying to come up with an English or French equivalent for the character…but Michelle never even hesitated, and explained to her dad in French that it was a castle for an ‘ogre’.

I see this skill as the first step in the art of translation. Of course, one doesn’t have to be multilingual as a child to become an expert translator. However, a multilingual child has a natural ability—and often a need—to build bridges from one language to another.

At the early stage of development when children mostly operate using concrete categories, it is relatively easy to name objects or talk about everyday activities while switching from one language to another. As we read a story in Russian, I might ask Michelle to ‘translate’ it for her dad into French. Sometimes I might ask her to choose one of her French bedtime stories—from her extensive library in three languages—and retell it to me in Russian. This requires a combined effort, of course; she needs to want to share the stories, and I need to show genuine interest in them.

We sometimes play a version of the telephone game, in which I whisper a word, a phrase or an instruction to her in Russian, and she must deliver it to someone else’s ear in French (or English, depending on the participants of the game).

Such simple and fun activities give children practice in the skill of finding the best substitutes for words and ideas in other languages, making sure the meaning is not ‘lost in translation’.

When learning a language, big strides are usually made at the beginning. These initial achievements eventually level off as learners reach their ‘comfort zone’, the level that allows them to function minimally, enough to fulfil basic needs. Families can be quite content for their children to reach academic heights in one language, usually the language of education, and to become ‘minimally functional’ in others.

However, many parents of multilingual children nowadays, who know the benefits of being multilingual, choose to motivate and support their children to move beyond the basic levels of linguistic proficiency. They know that a high level of mastery in several languages opens a whole new world of options.

There are many ways parents and extended families can help children to maintain home, or heritage, languages at a high level—and translation games should definitely be on that list. Michelle is still at the early stage of development,  but this is a good time to start looking ahead, making enrichment plans for times not too far away…

The stage in which she will begin to operate sophisticated abstract concepts and ideas is just around the corner. Language used to express these concepts involves ambiguity and shades of meaning based on personal, cultural, emotional and educational experiences. As a multilingual she then has potential to blend such experiences into broader and deeper conceptual understandings. Translation practice, I believe, will help her to refine and deepen linguistic expertise, broaden general knowledge and cultural flexibility, and harbor appreciation of languages.

So, envisioning this ‘time not so far away’—but also getting ready for the long summer vacation—I have compiled a list of translation activities. Here it is, so far:

  • retell stories in different languages to family members, classmates and friends;
  • have regular creative sessions or conversations to find equivalents for concepts studied at school;
  • take passages from school books and translate them into one or more home languages;
  • have fun looking at expert translations of favorite books;
  • have a go at translating passages from favorite books and poems;
  • have fun working with dictionaries;
  • write journal entries, letters, stories, and plays, and translate them for family members who speak various languages;
  • find reasons and provide motivation for all the above. Be a model and enjoy translation together!

Our granddaughter Michelle loves songs and sings them in English, French and Russian. Intuitively, finding herself in a different cultural setting, she sometimes simultaneously translates a familiar song and sings it to the same tune but in another language. We can’t wait to see her this summer and have fun creating new songs, storytelling, building bridges between languages, and getting her ready for school, life and more linguistic adventures!

Tags: Ask Olga! · Mother tongue at home · Multilingualism

ISB Offers French, Spanish Picture Books Online

May 8th, 2018 · No Comments

Buying picture books in Romance languages in Asia can be a challenge. Did you know that the ES Hub (ES Library) offers online picture books in French and Spanish via Here are the steps to view a selection of books in these languages. To receive the username and password, ask in the ES Hub or email

1. Go to and enter ISB Username and Password.

2. Click on TumbleSearch. 

3. Go to Search by Language, and select language. French and Spanish currently offer the best selection of titles in addition to English. 

4. Browse book descriptions, and click Read Online to view a book.

5. Enjoy! Picture books on this site feature sound and animation.


Tags: Books · Mother tongue at home · Websites