More than half of our students at AIM have some exposure at home to either Chinese or Japanese, and many are fluent speakers even as they join our classrooms at 18 months or 3 years old. With this many students who are native speakers, a child who can already speak the language will find peers to speak it to from day one. This is an important factor in motivating children to speak a language other than English! Choosing a language immersion environment if one or both parents already speak Japanese or Chinese at home still provides many benefits.
CONTINUATION OF LANGUAGE AFTER PRESCHOOL
Many parents who speak another language at home find that children switch to English as soon as they enter preschool. This is especially risky if only one parent speaks Japanese or Chinese, as English is usually the family language. But even if both parents speak Japanese or Chinese at home, English often becomes dominant as soon as English-speaking peers surround children. By enrolling your child at AIM, you ensure that they will be in an environment that values Japanese or Chinese, and will be surrounded by peers who speak the language too.
Given the complexity of Chinese and Japanese writing, few American-born children become truly literate in Chinese or Japanese, even if their parents speak to them exclusively in these languages. The best way to acquire a large vocabulary and learn many characters is to instruct in Japanese or Chinese throughout the school day. This is exactly what happens at AIM in our Montessori preschool and private school program.
CREATING CULTURAL EXPERIENCES
At AIM, we celebrate both Japanese and Chinese traditions. From Japanese Children’s Day and Setsubun to the Chinese Lunar New Year and Moon Festival. Our Spring Performance also focuses on Chinese and Japanese culture, as students dress up in traditional costumes, sing songs, and perform theater from both cultures. We also benefit from many parents with Japanese and Chinese origins, who bring these cultures into our daily experience by volunteering to demonstrate calligraphy, by bringing Japanese and Chinese foods to our events, and by just speaking in these languages around them.
LEARNING A SECOND LANGUAGE
About half of our students join AIM without speaking a word of Japanese or Chinese and are able to converse in a second language after 3 years in the program.
If you do not speak either Japanese or Chinese at home, know that you and your child are very welcome at AIM. 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 learn than less "easier" languages like Spanish or French. In fact, these other languages are more easily learned at a later age, even in middle school, while it is almost impossible to learn Chinese fluently if you do not start in early childhood.
GETTING AN EARLY START
If your child does not speak Japanese or Chinese, the sooner you enroll them at AIM, the easier the transition will be. Three-year-olds generally adapt rather quickly as they are very unselfconscious in their use of language.
USING EXPRESSIVE LANGUAGE
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), and use gestures. This is how your toddler will learn Chinese or Japanese at AIM!
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 they feel listened to.
Teachers will speak with students exclusively in Japanese or Chinese. All lessons, in all areas of the classroom, are taught in Japanese or Chinese. All other day-to-day interactions also happen 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 the student asked for.
PEER ROLE MODELS
Because AIM is an established immersion program with 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 role modeling leads to children wanting to fit in and use whatever Chinese or Japanese the child may have learned!
SETTING LANGUAGE EXPECTATIONS
Once your child has learned some Chinese or Japanese, we expect them to use their language skills in class. If they talk to a teacher in English, but the teacher knows they can say it in Chinese or Japanese, the teacher will ask them to do so. She’ll also monitor the social use of the language because 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.)