Did you know that the human brain is hardwired to learn languages between birth and five years old? After age five, this window begins to close and language learning becomes much more difficult. Did you know that even babies benefit from exposure to multiple languages? Listening to other languages familiarizes babies with the rhythm of those languages, and it stimulates the part of the brain that processes language. After all, we all learn to speak by listening, and studies show that children can do this almost effortlessly with multiple languages at the same time. Some studies link learning multiple languages at an early age to increased IQ and SAT scores, and others show that, once you’ve learned a second language, learning a third or fourth becomes easier. This was definitely true in my experience with Romance languages. After I had learned French, Spanish was much simpler to pick up. Multilingual adults who learned languages as children have better accents than those who picked languages up later in life, and multilingual people have a head start in business, education, and cross-cultural awareness.
When Hayden was five months old, he and I enrolled in the French class at Sponge School. Sponge offers language classes in French, Spanish, Mandarin, and Japanese and has centers in Seattle, Redmond, and Issaquah. Of all the activities and classes we’ve tried, this is my favorite. My son will naturally learn English growing up in America, but the opportunity to learn another language from the beginning is a huge gift. H can’t say a whole lot yet, but he sure understands. We underestimate how smart these little people are! Right now, Hayden is starting to use sign language and understands English and French, but verbally, he only says “mama” and “dada” well. Parents of multilingual kids tend to agree that they can take longer to start speaking than kids who only speak one language, but that once they do start, they don’t have a problem catching up. Poor H comes from a family of dyslexics. I hope he won’t struggle with dyslexia, but there’s a good chance he will. I figure if I can teach him other languages from the beginning, it may help him down the line.
Plus H loves Sponge School. They have snack time, story time, song time, and playtime. As the parent, you don’t need to know the target language; it’s a fun opportunity for you and your child to learn together. The teachers at Sponge are fantastic. They’re native speakers from all over the world: Japan, Chile, Colombia, Puerto Rico, France, China, and Taiwan. Many of them have degrees in language and education and years of teaching experience. For children ages 0–4, Sponge offers 55-minute classes with a caregiver—45 minutes of language immersion and 10 minutes for questions and discussions in English. For children ages 3 and up (through elementary school), they offer 85-minute Just Kids classes divided by age. The classes are designed to instill a love of culture as well as language, so you and your child will learn about traditions, music, and art in addition to picking up vocabulary and grammar. It’s a fun way to give your child an advantage that he’ll appreciate for the rest of his life.