Learning another language (or two!) can be as easy for toddlers as learning their first language. They are still in the period of the "absorbent mind"; they are still starting to learn to speak, no matter in which language! We leverage this amazing ability in our Infant Community program by immersing them in a dual-language, Mandarin Chinese and Japanese environment.
The earlier the child starts in this immersion environment, the better it is: 18-month-olds will learn the new language much faster than 3-year-olds!
Each Infant Community classroom has two or more teachers, and at least one teacher speaks Mandarin, and one, Japanese. Each teacher is a native speaker, and she speaks only in her native language, with all children on campus.
Our teachers are masters in making language come alive to your child. They do all the things you do when you are with your child, the things that help a child learn any language—only they do them systematically, purposefully. Here are some examples:
- Using body language. When we want children to take off their shoes, we show them by pointing to the shoes, and making the motion of taking them off, while saying, slowly (in Japanese or Chinese), "Take of your shoes. Take the shoes off. Shoes need to come off before we go inside."
- Repetition and emphasis. We say the same things, in slightly different ways, over and over again. This gives the children the opportunity to parse apart sentences, to "absorb" the key words, which the teacher also emphasizes and connects with body language ("SHOES", pointing to the child’s shoes).
- Tying language to the child’s immediate interests. Our Montessori teachers are masters at doing what research shows to be most effective: offering words in direct response to the child’s own activities, providing it in the moment, when it matters. ("Oh, the water spilled. Now the floor is wet. Let’s get a sponge and wipe it dry. Feel how wet it is: there’s a puddle of water here. Now, touch the floor, it’s dry again.") We also ask children to restate their questions in the teachers language: a child may ask, at lunch, "I’d like more pasta", and the Japanese teacher may ask her to repeat the request in Japanese, before granting it. We thus encourage children to speak in the target languages, not just listen and understand!
- Offering vocabulary via the Three Period Lesson. We share photos of real objects (animals, plants, things) and help children learn them in a carefully structured sequence: first, we name the items; then, we ask children to recall which is which; third, we ask children to provide the word.
- Reading aloud. We have a library of simple children’s books in both Japanese and Chinese, as well as songs with illustrations. Our teachers regularly read from these books, and sing songs—and children will soon imitate, and pretend to read the books to each other, in both languages!
By the time our 3-year-olds graduate from 1 ½ years in the Infant Community program, they are able to understand and speak at an age-appropriate level, in both Japanese and Chinese—and they are ready for the next level of language development in our preschool/Children’s House program.