One afternoon, my 3-year-old student-friend was sharing with me how cool and how fast his train can go. He then excitingly went on from his subway’s train type, color and number to what he does on the subway while traveling from downtown to uptown. Like many other three-year-old boys, he loves cars, trains, and airplanes. What is not so ordinary is that he shared this story with me in perfect Mandarin –despite his non-Asian appearance; and the fact that none of his parents or other family members speak Mandarin.
How does this happen?
Neuroscientists have been showing that before a child is born, he/she already begins their learning journey in mommy’s womb. After they are born, those neural connections, which help in acquiring sensory pathways, language, and higher cognitive functions, start to grow rapidly in the first year of infancy. A fascinating aspect is that a child’s language skills mature around nine months old, generally way before they begin speaking words.
What follows are a couple of suggestions to get a child started on their foreign language journey:
1. Start Young
Babies as young as six to nine months old could start to join a mommy and me foreign language program. Early exposure to foreign language will help infants expand their sound spectrum and strengthen the neural connections that support language learning.
2. Find a Creative Language Immersion Program
Language is a tool learned through action. Look for a program that focuses on cultivating children’s creative and artistic nature through playful and culture-related activities. We will get into more details on how to choose a program next time. To find a class nearby, Kidz Central Station is always my favorite site to go to.
3. Live Sounds and Reciprocal Interaction
The most effective way in foreign language learning is immersing in live sound and reciprocal interaction. Once or twice a week a Mommy and Me class in a foreign language is a good start. Although babies may not be able to speak yet, you will see the signs showing that they really know the words and phrases after participating in the class for couple months. Besides taking classes, some language programs also provide reasonable rate for one-on-one private sessions at your home if kids are enrolled in their group classes.
Each child has his or her own unique way to learn and should proceed down that learning journey at his/her own pace. More questions or want to share your experience? Feel free to email me at [email protected]
By: Mimi Lin. Mimi has been working with young children for over 15 years. Her Ph.D. dissertation is about music, language and creativity in early childhood education. She is also the founder of two creative schools- Music Beans & Language Beans where she enjoys the learning journey with young children.