Tag Archives: learning

An iphone obsession and leading by example

30 Jun

Staying connected

Staying connected

The dulcet tones of Olly Murs on a relentless loop on Youtube is enough to test anyone’s sanity. I owe this particular pleasure to my two year old daughter’s new found IT skill – tapping the ‘mouse pad’ to affect a repeat play. It follows on from her ability to scroll down on my iphone to find certain apps, photos and videos.

The obsession with my iphone started at an early age and was duly rewarded with her own Fisher Price ‘mobile’ for her first birthday. She now has several toy phones and a ‘laptop’ (keyboard alphabet game). Still, the sheer joy of getting her grubby little hands on the real McCoy is undeniable. Thankfully a passcode prevents her doing too much damage if I take my eye off the ball.

So where’s all this going to lead? Reports that children are unable to communicate effectively or feel comfortable in social situations because they are spending too much time online and not enough in the ‘real’ world fills me with horror. Then there’s the issue of child safety, grooming and bullying. And one poor mother recently had to fork out £1,700 to pay for her five year old’s spending spree on her Ipad.

Of course, there are steps parents can take to alleviate these risks, such as limiting time spent on technology, supervising activity and using filtering and monitoring software. And the recent pledge by internet service providers, social media companies and search engines to clamp down on child pornography has to be a good move; although I’m not sure how far their paltry £1 million will go towards this effort, and whether ‘user alerts’ threatening legal intervention will simply drive the distribution of content underground. Anyway, I digress.

As my little one grows up, I would hope to be able to encourage her to socialise with her friends in person as much as online, and ‘screen’ time will certainly be limited. But as someone who checks her email, Facebook and Twitter accounts at least twice a day and goes into a state of panic if the WiFi goes down, leading by example will be tough! In my defence, this reliance on online communications is largely work-related, and I don’t feel the need to provide daily status updates. This perceived need to have a constant online presence in order to maintain credibility with one’s peers is something I particularly fear for my daughter.

On the other hand, I fully advocate the benefits of the internet and social media for learning, entertainment, sharing ideas and keeping in touch with family and friends who are geographically out of reach. Indeed, the skills and knowledge to utilise these technologies effectively should be supported – poor IT skills are surely a disadvantage in the modern world. So, rather than be too heavy-handed about surfing the web for fear of any potential harm, I hope in future we can discuss what she’s using the internet for and how to enter the digital world safely; just as we will discuss the dangers of coming home late and the dreaded ‘birds and the bees’, at the right time.

Putting Olly Murs and my headache aside… children are lucky to have so many resources available to them through the internet, but just as we had a fear of ‘stranger danger’ drilled into us, today’s kids need to be taught a healthy disrespect of enticing online introductions. They also need to understand the importance of conducting themselves properly to protect their own reputation, and know the potential for hurt by carelessly criticising others. Most importantly, they should know when its time to log off and not fear any repercussions. Only time will tell how successful I am in promoting this attitude.

Related links:

Susan Greenfield and the rise of the Facebook zombies

Limit children’s screen time, expert urges

Kids spend too much time screen focused

UK internet providers commit £1m to eradicate child porn

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‘Franglais’ and the international sign for chicken

25 May

Our temporary sojourn in Brittany has brought with it the inevitable challenge of speaking French. My GCSE level French is rusty to say the least, and in reality I’ve not yet had to ask someone how to find the railway station, or if I can buy a kilo of bananas. I have however, mimed a chicken lying down for the night in order to obtain some wood shavings for the hen coop, and casually asked the assistant in an electrical store where I can find the weapons (‘fusiller’), only to be asked whether, in actual fact, I might be looking for fuses (‘fusible’)!

These minor embarrassments are all part of the learning curve, but there’s no doubt that some dedicated study is going to be needed to help me contribute more than a cursory: “It’s sunny today” at the school gates. My two and half year old daughter on the other hand, is becoming ‘au fait’ with basic words and phrases with relative ease – thanks to a couple of weeks at the local pre-school. Admittedly she’s not saying very much in French, but she’s comfortable uttering ‘bonjour’, ‘au revoir’ and ‘merci’ and more importantly, she’s following the teachers’ instructions and interacting confidently with the other children. Additionally, while playing on her own, she will sometimes imitate French speaking or read to her teddy in ‘French’, which is basically gobbledygook but with a distinctly Gallic melody. That, of course, is exactly how she began to speak English – by practicing different sounds until they gradually morphed into recognisable words and groups of words.

It’s well known that language acquisition is a natural part of development, much like walking; and that learning new languages comes more easily to children than adults. It is, however, a common misconception that the adult tongue somehow become less able to pronounce the sounds of another language. The key distinction is in ‘acquisition’ and ‘learning’ – i.e. the gradual development of an ability in a language, through regular exchanges, as opposed to a more rigid classroom-based accumulation of vocabulary and grammar, which is altogether a more arduous process. Despite this uncomfortable truth, I must continue to try to re-familiarise myself with verbs and tenses learned by rote over 20 years ago, for fear of getting left behind as my daughter’s comprehension and vocabulary effortlessly grows.

Mulling this over, I consulted a few friends who are married to partners that speak a different language and are therefore raising children that are bilingual. Their experiences confirm the notion that learning multiple languages in infancy is a relative breeze. Their toddlers are not only learning two (or more) languages at pretty much the same rate as their monolingual counterparts, but in some cases, they actually act as a translator – taking one parent’s question and putting it to the other parent in their (the other parent’s) native language. Apparently, this ability to switch from one language to another has been proven to help the bilingual child to outperform monolingual children in cognitive tests. So an added benefit of my little one learning two languages at an early age is that being bilingual can actually make kids smarter, and I’m all for that.

For me, I think it’s definitely back to the proverbial classroom if I’m going to survive the forthcoming school trip, on which I’ve boldly offered to act as a help chaperone. My ‘Franglais’ simply won’t cut the ‘moutarde’.

Related links:

Bilingual children ‘better at problem-solving skills’ BBC News

Why bilinguals are smarter, New York Times

TED talks: Patricia Kuhl on the liguistic genuis of babies

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