In our Montessori toddler program, children learn both Japanese and Chinese. One teach speaks exclusively Japanese to the children; another one, Chinese.
Studies have shown that very young children can easily learn three or more languages. Recent research has also shown that specialization in languages happens very early: children as young as 10-12 month are already better at identifying sounds common to their mother tongue, and become progressively worse at identifying and imitating sounds they do not hear spoken regularly. That’s why we provide our youngest students with the opportunity to learn the basics of both Japanese and Chinese, ensuring that even as they specialize in one language at age three, they will forever have the ability to hear and reproduce the sounds of three languages (Japanese, Chinese and English.)
We are convinced that children who join AIM will learn English well, even if they aren’t exposed to it in the classroom during the ages of 18 month – 36 month: the cultural dominance of English all round us ensures that children pick up English effortlessly. (For better or worse, English is the playground language even at AIM: it’s the one language shared by all of our students!)
In the Infant Community, much language acquisition happens along with the daily routines of the Montessori class: getting dressed, preparing food, cleaning up, engaging in art projects. Teachers narrate their activities, repeating phrases slowly, and use very expressive body language to ensure that even students who are new to Chinese or Japanese can understand and begin to learn the languages. They make use of the wide variety of activities to introduce not just nouns, but also adjectives and adverbs: "Let’s try to walk slowly," "listen to the faint sound we make when we put the cup down gently," or "feel how soft this silk cloth feels when you touch it with your fingertip."
Our highly trained Montessori toddler teachers also use many other activities:
- Songs: our youngest students love to sing songs. Often, teachers supply picture cues along with the music, to reinforce the acquisition of vocabulary.
- Story time: throughout the day, students can join teachers in short story circles. Colorful pictures books in both languages make learning new words fun.
- Montessori three-period-lessons. Our classroom is full of little objects– animals, plants, household objects—and picture cards with more items (colors, vehicles, clothes.) Teachers regularly guide students in learning vocabulary with a Montessori three period lesson.
- Naming things. A teacher will hold up an item – an apple, a pear, a lemon, a strawberry – and tell the child the name of each.
- Verifying understanding. After the child has heard the names, the teacher will ask the child to identify an object. She’ll ask (in Japanese or Chinese, of course): "Can you put the apple over here?", "Please put the pear on this plate", and "Hand me the lemon."
- Asking for the word. Once she knows the child understands a word, she will ask him to say it. Holding up the fruit, she’ll say, " What is this?", or "Name this," or "Which one am I pointing to now?"
- Language games. Teachers engage students in many games: matching objects to cards (always speaking their names as student make the match); finding the right card when a teacher calls out an objects name; puzzles of all kinds.
Children who join the AIM infant community at age 18 months, even without a word of Japanese or Chinese, often graduate at age 3 being able to speak both of these languages equally well, and often approaching in proficiency the level of each child’s English language skills.