“Jeg forstår ikke hvordan sådan en lille dreng kan forstå sådan et fremmed sprog” (English translation: “I don’t understand how such a small boy can speak such a foreign language”). This was what I just heard a small 8-9 year old boy say after he heard a woman speak Spanish to her child, a child that I estimate was 2 maybe 3 years old, but the child also spoke Danish.
Kids are great, and it is indeed very difficult to understand how it is possible for a three year old boy to understand both Danish and Spanish.
Children are such fast learners, it is estimated that it takes something like 7 years to learn how to speak a language, and if you acquire a language during adulthood it is very difficult to learn how to speak it like a native.
So does this child master two languages equally well? The teacher of the course I attended this Monday, claimed that you always have a native, or preferred, language. I tend to agree with her, but that being said, it is indeed possible to have perfect grasp of several languages, this is rather rare in Denmark, but quite common in countries that recognise several languages as native, like Canada, Belgium and Luxembourg.
The earlier a child is introduced to several languages, the better the child will master it, at least in pronunciation, but it is very difficult to maintain a working language without being in a culture that speaks it all the time. It’s a fact that many children of first and second generation immigrants living in Denmark, have great difficulty mastering both Danish and the language of their parents, since they’re not using the latter very frequently, and the parents aren’t able to pass a “functional”, e.g. reading and writing skills, Danish language on to their children.
One way to improve reading and writing skills is to use a method that I was introduced to while attending the aforementioned course. The method is called LTG (Læsning på Talens Grundlag – Reading on the Foundation of Speech”, the idea is that you use the strength of the spoken language that the children have, to strengthen the “functional” reading and writing skills.
The method can be labelled as: A short break, where you also manage to produce a reading text..
The student tells about an event or something that occupies him/her
* the text is told spontaneous, and you should avoid completely to correct the storyteller. The content can be anything: an experience, a nice day, “someting that made me feel sad”, a picnic the possibilities are many.
* you (the tutor) capture the story in writing, completely the way it’s told, but with correct spelling.
* the story is produced with a focus on building sentences
* the “selfproduced story” is now ready to be used to train reading skills.
The strong side, the spoken language is used, and the reading of the story is made easier, because the student is aware of what it means – we’re utilising the “known” to train the “difficult”.
It’s my intention to try to use this method in the tutoring of children.