About half of our students join AIM without speaking a word of Japanese or Chinese – and emerge, after three or more years in our program, being able to converse in a second language!
If you do not speak either Japanese or Chinese at home, know that you and your child are very welcome at AIM. While many of our families come from Japanese or Chinese backgrounds, many others do not. We know that Japanese or Chinese may sound like challenging languages to learn – but for a 2- or 3-year-old, they are no more difficult to acquire than less "threatening" languages like Spanish or French. In fact, we’d argue that the huge difference between English and Japanese or Chinese are a great argument for starting your child with one of these languages, rather than Spanish, French or German: these other language are more easily learned at a later age, even in middle school, while it is almost impossible to learn Chinese fluently, for example, if you do not start in early childhood.
With about half of our students being non-speakers of Japanese or Chinese when they join AIM, we have lots of experience managing their transition.
- Getting an early start. If your child does not speak Japanese or Chinese, the sooner you enroll her at AIM, the easier the transition will be. Toddlers who speak hardly any English anyway usually struggle more with general separation anxiety they’d experience at any away-from-home care, rather than with language adjustment. Three-year-olds generally adapt rather quickly, too, as they are very unselfconscious in their use of language.
- Using drama. Our teachers are very good at using body language, tone of voice and facial expressions to make language come alive. They do what you did when you first taught your child English: point to things, repeat phrases, elaborate, use exaggerated language (slower, higher-pitched), use gestures. This is how your toddler is learning English, after all – learning Chinese or Japanese happens just the same way!
- Providing individual attention. Our teachers understand that children want to communicate in whichever language they speak. They’ll listen carefully to what your child says in English, then repeat things back to him in Chinese or Japanese. That way, language acquisition is tied to the things your child is interested in, and he feels listened to.
- Exclusive communication in Japanese or Chinese. Teachers will speak with students exclusively in Japanese or Chinese. All lessons, in all areas of the classroom, are in delivered in Japanese or Chinese: geography, math, story time, songs, practical life, sensorial. All other day-to-day interaction also happens in Chinese or Japanese: teachers will speak to children in these languages exclusively, both in class and on the playground. They’ll also ask students to repeat back any requests students make in Chinese or Japanese, before providing the help or guidance a student asked for.
- Leveraging peers. Because AIM is an established immersion program, and because we have multi-age classrooms, most of your child’s peers will already be speaking Chinese or Japanese. This means that your child will be surrounded by the language – not just by teachers who speak it to your child, but also by peers who speak it with each other. Peer pressure leads to children wanting to fit in, and really increases the motivation to use whatever Chinese or Japanese the child may have learned!
- Setting language expectations. Once your child has learned some Chinese or Japanese, we expect him to us his language skills in class. If he talks to a teacher in English, but the teacher knows he can say it in Chinese or Japanese, the teacher will ask him to do so. She’ll also monitor the social use of the language: we expect our students who are reasonably proficient in Japanese or Chinese to only use these languages, even when talking with their friends, during the morning work period and the lunch hour (9 am – 1 pm.)