The Gannon Gang!
Why did she create The Language Playground? For a lot of reasons, but mainly because she wanted to share her journey into language acquisition with parents like her – parents who want their children to speak a second language and have fun doing it!
When people meet her children and find out that they speak Mandarin, they always ask her how she continues to keep the language alive in her household when neither her husband, Jim, nor she speak the language themselves. Now, she can happily send them to her website and they see for themselves the different ways she incorporates a second language into her children’s lives easily and joyfully. Perhaps parents will walk away with a few tips and products to help get a second language going in their families as well! For Michelle and Jim, this endeavor is still very much a journey — her kiddos are still so young and she is sure that each child’s learning method will be different. So come along, sign up for our newsletter and check in on their adventure!
Walk Like an American!
Michelle’s love of foreign cultures and languages most likely began with her mother (as so many things do). Her mom, Louisa, came over from Holland as a child, at age 8. Although Michelle was raised in a household that anxiously awaited Sinterklaas’ arrival in December, surrounded by Delftware and herring, the Dutch language was mostly absent from her home.
Perhaps it was because her mother came to America at a time when foreigners were trying hard to assimilate into their new culture, but her parents never taught her Dutch. Although Michelle inherited the vestiges of her mother’s Dutch background, she was always missing that crucial piece: the language.
In her college years, all of her roommates spoke multiple languages, easily switching between Friday night flirtations in English, eloquent French with parents or passionate Spanish longings with a boyfriend back home. Inspired by her cosmopolitan girlfriends, Michelle took the money she won from a prize for her senior thesis and embarked on an adventure to France before trotting out to the working world. She took classes, immersed herself in the culture and ate some amazing food. Three months, three cities, ten pounds heavier, and a few French admirers later, she could speak!
Journey to the East
Fast forward seven years to 2005 and Michelle, now married and pregnant with her first child, was ready for another adventure. This time, the journey was to the East – her husband Jim was offered a fantastic opportunity to work in Tokyo, Japan and the travel-loving couple jumped at the chance.
Michelle had assumed that learning Japanese would be just as easy as learning French. However, without the aid of a Japanese-speaking admirer, mastering this language proved arduous. Michelle spent hours tracing the kanji (characters) and sputtering through painful conversations with the endlessly patient Japanese people she encountered. After three years in Japan, she could (usually) order what she (mostly) wanted in a restaurant, and (hopefully) get home in a taxi, but that was about it.
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What shocked both Michelle and Jim, however, was how quickly their little son learned the language. Lucas picked up Japanese easily at preschool and loved it. When it was time for the family to move back to the US, Michelle was determined to continue his language development, particularly while it was still so easy and fun for him. This time in Mandarin.
There are many reasons why Michelle and her husband Jim choose to focus on Mandarin with their children. The top reasons are…
- Michelle’s children could have 850 million more friends! She wants her children to understand that there is a whole planet just waiting for them to explore. Knowledge of foreign languages will give them the keys to unlocking those hidden adventures! Language allows you to leave one culture and easily enter another.
- Research has shown that learning a second language has an enormous impact on children’s educational development, creativity and academic performance. Exposure to a language that is so divergent from English, like Mandarin Chinese, challenges their minds every time they speak.
- An Investment in their future! We can no longer rely soley on English to make our way through the business world. Will Mandarin be the main language of the future? Who knows but the Chinese sure do seem to be getting ahead!
- Mandarin is considered one of the most difficult languages to learn. Why not start off there while it is easy for them to soak in a second language?
- China is and will continue to play a major role in world affairs.
The Language Playground is Born
Although Michelle didn’t realize it at the time, the journey back to the US was actually the beginning of The Language Playground. Following her own difficulties learning Japanese, she wanted to find a way to make the learning curve easier for her own children. A few key things struck her:
1. Start young when they don’t realize that there is a difference between the two languages.
2. Get them going when they are not fearful of making mistakes.
Language acquisition for kids is just a game. The Language Playground began as a collection of the tools, websites and ideas she used at home to help her children in their language learning process. As more people began to ask her why her blonde, blue-eyed child spoke Mandarin so well, Michelle thought that maybe she should share her ideas with other moms like her!
What is on Michelle’s Resume?
- Princeton University BA in Art and Archaeology with a Certificate in Women’s Studies
- Columbia University MA in Education
- Andersen Consulting
- Northern Valley Regional – Humanities and Film Teacher
- Temple University – Writing Teacher
- Founder of The Language Playground
In Her Free Time?
When she is not darting after her three children, she sprints even more with a local running group – barunners.com. She loves bringing people together so three years ago she put together a group called Brainstorming and Bubbly where women meet once a month to share business ideas and gain support in their business ventures.
Great to meet you!