Just over a year ago, we started to teach babies aged 6 months, based on the results of scientific studies. These linguistic studies presented results proving that babies who were in contact with a native speaker regularly before 8 months of age developed and maintained a capacity to hear and reproduce sounds in a foreign language (see TED Talk: The Linguistic Genius of Babies by Patricia Kuhl).
Two babies, from two different families, started with us at approximately the same age, one being in contact with a Mandarin speaker once a week, another one being in contact with a native French speaker 2 to 3 times a week.
So what are the results a year in the program?
Before saying any more we would like to thank the parents who have taken a big leap of faith with us. Because that is exactly what it was at first, when their baby only just crawled, did not walk nor talk - then what was the point in spending all this time with a teacher?
It took a few weeks to get the first results. And the challenge
was to show parents how we measured results: a baby looking our way, recognising that even though the sounds were new, we were talking to them, a smile at the right time, an eye contact, the turn of the head, etc.
Later on, babies started to look outward on cue: looking at what we were taking about (mum, the ball, etc).
A few weeks later yet, babies were able to answer orders: "give the ball to mum", "throw the ball", "where are your eyes", "where is the doll", "let's give food to the doll", "would you like to draw", etc.
We saw these babies growing into toddlers, we were around when they took their first steps, said mum/dad for the first time, reacted to a rhyme for the first time and repeated their first sounds in the foreign language. And there was no way of getting confused. Each language has a very specific set of sounds and even tones in Mandarin. To us teachers it is unmistakable - while the parents attending the classes learn the same words and sounds, they can only repeat a modified version with a foreign accent. It takes a lot longer to their babies to repeat sounds, but they repeat these sounds like our own children - no trace of an accent.
Yet another few weeks pass before we hear a few isolated words, on cue. "Mouth", "car", "good bye", "thank you". The correct language is always used with the correct person - English with mum and dad, French/Mandarin with the teacher and sometimes the parent who comes along to the classes.
And finally, about a year in, these babies surprise us with the first perfect word combination, coming out of the blue - a noun, an adjective (in the correct order), followed by a verb. Yes, it's still baby talk, but with the correct words and assembled by them: "blue chair, sit" ("chaise bleue, assis"), before going over to the blue chair and sitting on it, expressing the intention. These words had been said before but all in a different contexts, never together. And that's when we knew we had made it!
The babies now watch shows in the language they are learning, listen to books in this language, etc.
The learnings go back and forth as babies learn a lot of different things and go through stages. There are big set backs when they are sick or teething, or focusing on learning how to walk, when someone new comes to the class (grand-parents, the other parent), or when they are just tired. The communication between the parents and the teachers is essential and allows the teachers to plan the best classes for the babies (time of the day, length, content, etc). We adjust to this and know that all the progress is based on our relationship with the child and the fact that at French class/Mandarin class we are having fun - it's a set playdate, really. We make a point in preserving that characteristic. The minute they stop enjoying themselves, they will stop learning.
So what's next?
We keep going with the classes at the same pace, but the classes become a lot more rewarding for the parents and the teachers as progress is seen during every single lesson. A year in, these toddlers are able to repeat every sound and learn about 5 new words per 30 minute session. We keep developing their vocabulary, their syntaxe and we keep encouraging them to speak in context.
The next steps will include asking questions, discovering the alphabet and numbers.
And when they turn two, they will be able to join group classes.
Where are the baby and toddler classes held?
The classes are held in our center or at the parents' house. We also go to the park or anywhere else we think might b a good next step depending on the child needs and aspiration.
Would you like your child to start learning a language with us?
We have the following available for babies:
French, German, Mandarin, Tagalog, Japanese.
Get in touch with us to discuss the project and book your classes.