Monday, March 23, 2009

Preparing for the CPE...

This is my first text to prepare for the CPE...

Describe a place you have visited that really impressed you

I have to start with a confession: I am not as good a traveler as I would like to be. I do love traveling, but I happen to be a little too lazy to go on quick trips. My idea of traveling is to take a month, or even two, or more, and to go to the place I want to visit, getting to know the streets, getting lost once in a while without worrying with the time and just enjoying the new atmosphere. Quick trips in which you spend half of the time driving or flying do not really appeal to me.

However, I have to say I have been lucky enough to visit many of the places I was interested in seeing, and all the times it was an amazing experience, although sometimes the expectation is such that you can’t help being a little disappointed at first. This disappointment, though, tends to fade away pretty quickly when you really try to see and understand the place – not for its beauty, but rather for its singularity, its atmosphere, its energy.

There was one trip, though, which I did not plan and I was really not interested in: Istanbul. My dad decided to go, he did not tell me anything about it, just told me to pack the day before. I was very curious about where we were going and got very excited when I found out we were going to take a plane. At the time I was only eleven and flying for me was one of the most magical things – I simply loved it. When we boarded, I was disappointed: the airplane was very old and definitely not as clean as a whistle. Many passengers started complaining and kept moving from one seat to the next, looking for a cleaner spot. My dad obviously wouldn’t do that: you sit where they tell you to and just be quiet. The complaints from the passengers just kept growing louder and louder as we were flying in a terrible weather and the plane was tossed all over the place. The thought of an airplane crash did not even cross my mind: I just kept asking where we were going. Finally my dad gave in and told me we were heading to Istanbul in one of those organized trips. When I heard that, I just thought: Istanbul? What is there to see in Istanbul? I guess the only thing I knew was what I was studying in my History classes, so I had heard Istanbul used to be called Constantinople and was the capital of the Eastern Roman Empire. My dad read perplexity on my face and assured me I would love the city, which was one of the most important in Turkey. I still was doubtful about that, but there wasn’t much I could do. I remember it was the Holy Week. Sitting on the plane, I started thinking about the chocolate eggs my family would open and eat while I was in Turkey and wondered if they would have chocolate eggs in Istanbul.

After we settled down in the hotel, the tour guides took us and other 50 Italian tourists to see the famous landmarks. They talked a lot telling us everything about the history and the legends of the places. This is when I started to feel the atmosphere of Istanbul, a place where history and legends mingle together in a far far away past. Things definitely started to get interesting at that point. The experience with the food, though, was not the best: an 11-year-old is not very keen on trying very different and spicy food that tastes nothing like your grandma’s lasagna. My dad, though, is not very condescending and understanding on these things, so he made me try everything. I ate like a bird: a little bit of everything. Now I can say my dad did the right thing. At the time I didn’t realize it, but the food is a fundamental part for you to understand the place and feel its uniqueness and magic. Istanbul is definitely a magical place and you can feel that anywhere you go. However, I only really realized that when we went to the markets, especially the Egyptian one: when I went in I felt like I was stepping away from the real world and entering the magical fairy-tale world of Aladdin, Jasmine and Scheherazade. The colors, the smell, the people, the noises: it just didn’t feel real. I kept following my dad surrounded by carpets as smooth as silk, shoes, dried fruit, apricots, candies, spices, dates and many other colorful things, among loud people and merchants who seemed as busy as beavers. I was in a daze, feeling as light as a feather.

I don’t remember how it happened, but all of a sudden my dad was talking in Italian to a man who had a store in the market where he sold carpets. He invited us in to have tea with him. That was one of the best things I have ever tasted: apple tea. It smelled delicious and was as sweet as honey.

After I got so much involved with the place and blended in with it, it was already time to leave. Time flew like an arrow in there, which added to Istanbul magical and dreamy atmosphere.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Raising Bilingual Children

Bilingualism is definitely a field I am very interested in, being a sort of bilingual myslef. 

My bilingual experience is kind of...hum...let's say not so common. Which is probably what everyone who was raised in a biligual environment feels.
 The fact is, in my case, I lernt Portuguese when I first started speaking because I lived in Brazil and lived with my mother (a Brazilian), so there was no real reason/opportunity for me to learn Italian. Then we moved to Italy, and it was pretty natural for me to start speaking Italian. My dad, who always spoke Portuguese in Brazil, didn't want me to speak Portuguese in Italy. Also, because of some articles he read, he believed that raising a kid in two languages simultaneously would result in a delay of speech, or in a confusion. This is why I started learning Portugues all over again only when I moved back to Brazil, at the age of 16.

Of course, I am very into bilingualism, and, although I don't feel as a perfect native speaker in either Portuguese or Italian, I still feel they are sort of "my languages". Because of this feeling of not really, truly and entirely belonging to either one, I decided to turn to English as my safe-harbor: I know I will never be a perfect English native speaker, but I want to get as close to native-like English as I can. On the other hand, I feel no pressure from the language and the English community, and this makes me feel good and safe (much more than with Italian and Portuguese).

I was surfing the internet (as always), and I found a very nice article written by Kendall King and Lyn Fogle (Georgetown University) on how to raise bilingual children, which made me think of the way I was raised and how thing could have been a little different. 

In short, the article, which appeared in CAL's webstite (Center for Applied Linguistics, a Washington-DC based organization), dismantles, through reasearch, all the the beliefs on bilingualism in children that parents hold as true - and maybe are not.

It addresses mainly four points:
  • language delay due to bilingualism. According to research, this is not true. Language delay may in fact happen in children that have been exposed to a bilingual environmente, however it is not due to the bilingualism, but rather to other clinical causes (e.g. autism).
  • language confusion due to bilingualism. It has been proven that bilingualism does not cause any linguistic confusion in kids' brain. Moreover, the idea that a parents should speak only one language to the children is not accurate. A parent can easily code-switch between one language and the other with no harm for the child. However, in order for children to be raised as active bilingualism, they shold be encouraged in speaking the minority language along with the language that has a higher social status.
  • language learning through television and music cds. Although Dora and Diego cartoons, as well as songs  can be fun to watch and listen to, it has not been proven that they really help children be bilingual. It is necessary that children have a human contact with both languages for them to have a better perception (as well as a production) of the target language. So, TV and CDs can be used, but we cannot rely only on them to have children learn the minority language.
  • intelligence due to bilingualism. Some people believe that bilingual children develop stronger cognitive habilities than their monolingual peers. This is definitively not the case. Possibly, bilingual children will develop a better understanding of the linguitic system in which all natural languages work, but this is not 100% certain. As to the other cognitive fields, there is no evidence that bilingual children will have a better performance.
On the whole, I think tha, based on my experience, I agree with what the article shows us. However, I have to say I wasn't really brought up in a bilingualism environment and I was practically a monoligual kid throughout chidlhood and most of my adolescence.