Language Development and Bilingualism: A Family Affair

By Nancy Scarselletta

As humans, language is our connecting tool and once born, we begin our quest for connection. Traditionally, the United States has been known as a country of monolinguals; we were proudly a country where knowing and speaking another language was viewed as negative. This has left us culturally disadvantaged. In today’s global market, the United States is reconsidering the importance of bilingualism. My philosophy on when to learn a second language is; the earlier the better.

Even in the womb, babies hear sounds and develop some sort of “awareness” of the different voice types. Babbling is baby’s first means of communication. Listen carefully; one can hear the French “r”, the Spanish “j”, Italian “r” and the Hebrew and Arabic “ch”. Surrounded by a community of speakers, the baby is enveloped by speech; these babbled sounds dwindle to the most frequently heard. Then somewhere around age one, the words mama and dada are said and soon followed by other one-word identifications. Eventually, these words are strung together into sentences.

Learning more than one language at an early age has a multitude of benefits ranging from communicative, cognitive, and cultural, to social and appreciative skills. Growing up with an appreciation of another culture and its people is huge in the development of a child’s view of the world. Learning more than one language as an infant enhances problem solving and analytic skills, enlarges the capacity for logical reasoning, and encourages the child to be cognitively flexible which increases his/her ability to form and understand concepts. From the point of view of personal gain, multiple language learning at a young age increases creativity, naturally raises self-esteem, encourages the child to become socially sensitive, flexible and adaptable. In other words, when a child is exposed to another language other than the dominant one of the family, it becomes a part of that child, not an “add on”. As a baby, the brain is actually programmed to learn language. Between the age of birth and around twelve, new formatting and neural networks actually form in the brain and become the base upon which all else can develop. The older child starts to loose networks that are no longer used; thus making it more difficult to learn another language.

Most schools typically, due to budget constraints, begin second language study in middle school around fifth or sixth grade. By this time, the child’s language development in the first language is fully formed in all skills: reading, writing, listening and speaking. At about the age of fifteen the young adults the facial muscles and bones are nearly mature and some experts believe that this makes the distinction and production of new sounds more challenging and more difficult. Additionally, the middle school child is already socialized to learn in a certain manner, and is now placing more and more emphasis on grades. At this age, second language learning is an academic exercise rather than just another way to communicate. Even if the language they study in school is different from the one they learned in early childhood, just having been exposed at a younger age sets them up for success.

What can you do? Create an environment at home that promotes bilingualism. Using CDs and DVDs are the easiest if you do not speak another language. Children love to listen to and watch things over and over. The repetition is wonderful! Enroll your baby into classes and then commit to them. At The Language Learning Institute, we offer an array of programs for children. Our Mommy and Me™ program starts at 2 months and truly makes language learning a family affair. This program is fun and a very a special bonding time! After School and Saturday morning programs are natural next steps for the five year old. Summer and winter camps are also available to promote language learning. Children have amazing memories, so in as little as 40 to 60 minutes per week, results occur. Be sure to check our website for these programs. If your child already speaks another language, enroll them into a language class for the bilingual child giving them the opportunity to learn how to read, write and spell as well as the opportunity to study art, history and culture in the target language. This also gives the bilingual child a community of piers with which to speak and they love it!

Summary

It doesn’t matter which second language your child is exposed to as long as they are exposed to one consistently. It is the belief of the Language Learning Institute that babies can start as young as two months old and we have developed programs to reflect this philosophy. Our programs are fun, disciplined, progressive, age appropriate and culturally authentic. We have a multiple locations for your convenience. We can even make special arrangements for in-home programs. Additionally, we have After School programs for bi-lingual children. Currently all of our children’s programs are available in French.

The Language Learning Institute has a full program for adults in French and are expanding programs in Italian so you can support your child’s learning. I invite you to come join us and make us a part of your and your family’s journey towards bilingualism. Visit us on the web at: www.languagelearninginstitute.com

I extend a special invitation to you all to Learn a Language and Expand Your World

Ms Scarselletta is the founder and owner of The Language Learning Institute. She holds permanent New York State teaching certificates in pre-k through 6 Elementary and French as well as 7 through 12 French. She holds a Bachelors Degree in Education and French from Siena College and a Masters of Arts Degree in French from Middlebury College. She has over 25 years experience in teaching. Over the span of her career she has taught ages three though college including adults.