Thursday, February 18, 2010

Vancouver Olympics a family event

I don't know about you, but there aren't too many things that will hold the interest of everyone in our family, for a prolonged period of time, so that we can actually spend more of our free time together than not.

I'm talking about the Vancouver Winter Olympics televised nightly for a total of two weeks.  From the Opening Ceremony last Friday night (my teenager stayed in!) to the nightly coverage of all things snowy and sporty, my family is hangin' together.

It's not that we don't like spending time together as a family, but for all age levels and our different interests, its not often we will spend night after night in one room.  Its been so great!  Wednesday night's women's downhill ski race was as action packed, drama filled and as heartwarming as any one of our favorite movies.

Action:  The track was so rock hard, fast and bumpy, three skiiers crashed before hitting the finish line!

Drama:  U.S. skiier Lindsey Vonn has been suffering a let injury for days and wasn't even sure if she could compete.   Lindsey waited at the top, focused and ready, but still hearing of crash after crash before her.  A couple of the women appeared so apprehensive it was as if they traded in their chance for a medal just to get down the mountain (1.8 miles) in one piece. 

Heartwarming conclusion:  Vonn did win Gold, could barely compose herself through a TV interview, ran to her husband, collapsed into his arms and sobbed for a full minute!

There really has been something for everyone.  My teenager likes the snowboarding and short track, my seven year old likes moguls, luge, and can't wait for bobsled, my hubby digs hockey and downhill, and I love it all!  Let me not forget to mention, this televised event is completely family friendly entertainment.  We haven't even seen the nightly inappropriate commercials peddling cures for ailments we'd rather not talk about in front of our kids.

We are watching together, cheering together, learning about different sports, and being inspired to learn new ones. There are even lessons of geography, as we interpret the flags of other teams. I have always enjoyed watching the Olympics. This year, I especially appreciate how such an event is just cool enough for my teen, and fun enough for my youngest, to hang out with mom and dad, even on a Friday night.


Sunday, February 7, 2010

Lifelong Benefits of Learning a Second Language Young

Enough research has been done over a long enough period of time to show there is absolutely a significant life-long benefit for children who learn a second, or even third language at a very young age. Universities like Oxford, Cornell, and Cambridge have done intensive studies and their conclusions are all in alignment. Bilingual children experience greater academic success, self-confidence and cultural sensitivity that continues throughout their lives.

According to the Language League, there are the “5 C’s” of early language learning. They are: Capture the critical period, Craft cognitive skills, Cultivate self-confidence, Celebrate cultural understanding, and Create a world of possibility.

Jiemin Jacobson, owner of Saline’s Children’s Creative Learning Center, believes so much in the importance of a second language at an early age, she has decided to make learning Chinese part of their everyday curriculum, with no additional tuition. “ We don’t want any child to not be able to learn such an important skill because of their inability to pay.” Jacobson suggests her preschoolers already benefit from a strong literacy foundation so the addition of a second language will contribute to academic success in the future. Studies indicate children who are bilingually fluent do better on SAT, ACT and other college assessment tests.

Research shows the ideal time to learn a second language is from birth to about age 10 or 12. A child’s brain is still developing language skills at a young age and will literally create “more room” to support the second language as it develops. Learning a second language after this developmental phase is still possible, but new “space” has to be created to house the new skills. It’s like realizing you need to add on an addition to your house while still in the building phase, instead of after construction is complete. This idea refutes the common misunderstanding that a second language is confusing to children who are learning it, before their home language is mastered. Young brains have the ability to compartmentalize as needed during development, storing the two languages equally.

A study conducted at the Cornell Language Acquisition Lab (CLAL), concluded children who learn a second language can maintain attention despite outside stimuli better than children who know only one language. This is the skill needed for a person to be able to achieve goals in the presence of distraction, which is important throughout many aspects of academic success.

Parents are increasingly realizing the benefit their children can reap from the exposure to other languages and cultures. “We’ve added the second language classes to our summer program for school age children too,” Jacobson said, "the need is great and the time is now while they are still young.”

Combine all of the research and reports and the outcome is similar. Any newly acquired skill ,like the mastery of a second language, will bring about a feeling of self-confidence and pride, especially if a child has mastered a skill his parent does not have. This adds to the spirit of independence and even empowerment. Socially, a child fluent in another language allows children to be more open and understanding to other cultures and academically, will ensure a competitive edge in the global marketplace of his or her future.