Foreign Languages and the Infant Mind
by Pamela Hicken
Babies can learn multiple foreign languages with ease. Early exposure to languages sets the stage for fluency later in life and, as an added benefit, actually stimulates overall brain development. Take the infants in classes taught by Francois Thibaut, founder of Language Workshop for Children, who attend weekly French classes with their parents. They learn words, phrases and songs without effort. Feedback from graduates of his classes indicates that they continue their love for learning, too, and not only in French or language-oriented fields.
So, how do babies learn
multiple languages? In the 5/31/99 issue
of People Magazine ("Small Talk"), Thibaut
says, "Studies show [babies]
recognize language as early as 4 months.
At 6 to 9 months, they begin
comprehending. By the 12th month, they
start repeating words they've heard. " He
continues, "Even if the child doesn't
continue in the language, learning so
young clearly stimulates brain activity...
Research now shows that learning a second
language at a young age not only doesn't
hinder children; it helps them do better
in their native language and in other
academic subjects. The first three years
are critical to developing the
intellectual potential a youngster carries
When a language is
presented before the age of seven, the
sounds, intonation and accents are
automatically entered into the computer of
the infant mind. Linguists sometimes
describe the various world languages as
having ranges similar to that of scales on
the piano. When a child hears the
frequencies of a specific language early
in life, it can be accessed later with
great ease and without accent.
languages is easy and can be a lot of fun!
When teaching an infant, toddler or
preschool-age child, the key is to present
the material in these two ways:
1) as gentle background
music/song/language tapes while they are
busy with other activities
2) as a lively, fun
presentation--puppets! music videos!
flashcards! song and dance!
It is important to
expose your child to many languages
without any expectation of the child
mirroring back what was presented. When
they are ready, children will
wholeheartedly jump in and repeat words,
phrases and songs. The goal is to have fun
and make the lessons
Learning Tapes and Videos
If you do not know a
foreign language, start a home library
containing a variety of language tapes,
videos or CDs. They are just as effective
for providing the basic sounds. Some
children's movies, such as those produced
by Walt Disney, are available in many
different languages. If you have a friend
from another country, ask them to purchase
a children's video in their native
language and send it along. (Videos from
European countries are available in
another format which can be transferred
onto VHS cassette at most audio/visual
Here are some excellent
sources to purchase materials on-line for
teaching foreign languages:
Audio Forum (every language on the planet!)
Penton Overseas (Lyric Language videos)
A few books by Dr. Shichida are available in English through Shichida Educational Institute in Tokyo: firstname.lastname@example.org. Shichida website
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