Friday, February 25, 2011

Tommy is simultaneous Bilingual

The dream for a great future for our son has never changed. Maybe along the way, we have to do modifications or adaptations to our expectations, but we always keeps our high expectations for him. The fact he has a genetic disorder doesn't discourage us that one day our son will fluently speak in English and Spanish. We were discouraged to teach Tommy two languages by a speech pathologist who did an observation on Tommy's speech development when he was 6 month old —an observation instead of an evaluation because he was too little for doing an evaluation. But nothing stopped me to keep improving Tommy's bilingual skills.

Tommy currently has the faculty to simultaneous translate from one language to the other, for example: When we ask him '¿Quién es mi niño?' (Who is my boy?) and he verbally has answered in English 'me' (yo) a few times and signs 'me' most of the time. The sign for 'me' was taught in English, never in Spanish. He doesn't answer the question in Spanish, but he knows the meaning in his dominant language, English. This confirms that his brain is making simultaneous translations. He also follows instructions in both languages. See the video below. 

Why do I teach two languages to my son?
Tommy is member of a multicultural family; therefore, he is simultaneously learning two language at the same time since birth and it is not by choice. When a child learns two languages since birth, he or she is considered simultaneous bilingual.

My family speaks just Spanish and my husband's family speaks just English. I cannot dinned one family or the other to communicate with him. Strong family ties are important for a child development; therefore, we won't exclude our son of enjoying his multicultural background just because he has Trisomy 21. 

Does bilingualism create language confusion?
The fear of many parents and speech/language pathologists is that the child would experience language confusion due to the exposure to two languages. According to a current research in this matter by Kendall King and Lyn Fogle at the Georgetown University, "the ability to switch back and forth between languages, sometimes called code-switching, is a a sign of mastery of two linguistic systems, not a sign of language confusion." Click here to read the full story.

Why bilingualism is beneficial for my son who has a genetic disorder?
I have solid reasons in thinking that bilingualism is beneficial for my son based on scientist researches. As we know, a person with Trisomy 21 is at a greater risk for dementia and Alzheimer. A recent research has found that being bilingual may delay Alzheimer's and boost brain power. According to a recently publication in

Learning a second language and speaking it regularly can improve your cognitive skills and delay the onset of dementia, according to researchers who compared bilingual individuals with people who spoke only one language.
Their study suggests that bilingual speakers hold Alzheimer's disease at bay for an extra four years on average compared with monoglots. School-level language skills that you use on holiday may even improve brain function to some extent.
In addition, bilingual children who use their second language regularly are better at prioritising tasks and multitasking compared with monolingual children, said Ellen Bialystok, a psychologist at York University in Toronto.
"Being bilingual has certain cognitive benefits and boosts the performance of the brain, especially one of the most important areas known as the executive control system," said Bialystok on Friday at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Washington, DC.
...switching between different languages seems to stimulate the brain so that it builts up a cognitive reserve. "It is rather like a reserve tank in a car. When you run out of fuel, you can keep going for longer because there is a bit more in the safety tank." Click here to read the full story.
What is the personal experience of other parents raising a bilingual child who has Trisomy 21?
"We went against the speech therapist’s advice because it was clear to us that our daughter understood both languages although she couldn’t, at the time, say a word. Actually she mostly made sort of barking noises J. I am totally convinced that using 2 languages constantly actually helped in the forming of the synapses in the brain. Bilingual children talk later anyway…I have 4 and my daughter is the youngest so I do have some personal experience. The older 3 all speak 3 or 4 languages and she is happy to read/write/watch tv etc. and chat in 2 and really enjoyed learning a third while she had the opportunity.

We live in a bilingual environment so there was no actual “learning” going on , just normal everyday behaviour i.e. everyone in the family and around us moved from one language to the next without thinking.

Often you are advised to have each parent speaking their own language…we didn’t nor did we sign. It all took time. BUT we got there in the end and she’s really pretty fluent in both and totally comprehensible."
~Harriet L.
My son bilingual skills has brought me to search for more information about bilingualism in Kids with Trisomy 21. There are not much information about bilingualism in kids with Trisomy 21 (T21). Howsoever, there are good enough information for me to continue teaching my son two languages at the same time.

There are much work to do in discovering better teaching methods for simultaneous bilingual children with Trisomy 21. Right now, most parents in the journey of teaching two or more languages to their children with Trisomy 21 just have the support of each other because the lack of understanding for many professionals that don't belive biligualism is benefitial for kids with Trisomy 21 because of the speech/language challenges. Howsoever, there are more professionals getting interested in bilingualism in kids with Trisomy 21. I think in 20 years from now many things will change in the benefit of multicultural families who are raising simultaneous bilingual children with a genetic disorder.

Enjoy the video of Tommy's bilingual skills
I have become a member of an 
online group of parents who have 
bilingual or multilingual kids with Trisomy 21.
"The sky is the limit."

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