Immersion schools, which can start as early as preschool, are a wonderful way to give your child a head start on learning a second (or third) language. Children learn all the same subject matter taught in standard schools, but in a second language!
WHERE TO FIND A SCHOOL IN YOUR AREA:
yelp.com: This website is a great place to start your search and get reviews from parents like you! Just type in what you are looking for (i.e. Mandarin preschool) in the search bar and see what kind of schools are available.
craigslist.com: This website is a wonderful site to search for home school programs in your area. We were surprised at just how many smaller programs were not advertised on yelp or found on the web, but were on craigslist! Many of these programs are less expensive as well since they are run out of people’s homes.
Yahoo Groups: Join some yahoo groups with a focus in your language of choice and post your question about recommended schools there. There are tons of happy parents just waiting to speak about their immersion school choices.
Recommended Websites: Check out our list of recommended websites for links to websites that will help you find a school in your area.
While living in Japan, we realized how easy it is for children to pick up a foreign language if they are immersed in it. While Lucas was only three when we left Japan, we knew that he loved speaking Japanese in school. To continue building upon this interest, we enrolled him in Chinese and Spanish preschools when we returned to the US. Since language acquisition is easiest at an early age, our children have jumped right into fully-immersive half-day Spanish and Chinese preschools. The entire class is conducted in that language and the children love it! At two, Lousha joined Lucas in Chinese school. At three, she started Spanish. After a year, we decided to focus solely on Chinese and so we no longer attend the Spanish schools.
Why not send my children to a “regular preschool”?
We felt that they would learn the English basics (alphabet, numbers, etc.) from us and their daily environment, and we wanted to give them a head start in acquiring foreign language skills. Children are little sponges and we know that now is the time for them to learn a new language. My kids still get all of the same elements that they would get at a “regular preschool” – social interaction, understanding of the rules, and snacktime :), only now they are soaking in another language at the same time!
They are not in school very much — just two days a week – but their level of understanding grows tremendously with each hour! It is just enough for them to enjoy it and yet not be overwhelmed.
Check out the following video of Lousha at her bilingual Montessori School, Growing Tree in Saratoga, CA. We adore this school, their methods, their materials and their dedicated teachers.
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Why not teach your child a second language while they sleep? As part of your nighttime routine, put on Chinese, Spanish, French, (you name it) music and the beautiful words of these languages will lull your children to sleep while they soak up the language in their dreams.
You don’t need anything fancy — just an old player that you find at a garage sale will do! You can involve your child in the decision making process by getting 3-4 CDs so that he can pick which one he wants to listen to before bedtime. You may find that your child enjoys the music so much that he puts it on himself while he plays in his room!
What a simple, easy and fun way to get language into your child’s life!
MICHELLE’S STORY: I downloaded a whole bunch of tracks and put them on my kids’ ipods to play each night. The music lasts for about a hour and a half and I love the fact that their little brains get to engage with Mandarin Chinese words in their sleep. Often, before Jim and I go to bed at night, I will just press “play” one more time so that my children can get a second dose of language immersion while they count sheep!
Frequently Asked Questions:
1. My kid does not like to listen to music when he goes to bed — what can I do?
Option 1: You can be sneaky — like me! My son used to listen to the music when he went to sleep, but then the player broke and we did not have music for awhile when he went to sleep. As a result, he decided when we got a new player that he did not want to listen to the Chinese music at bedtime any longer. Now, I wait for him to fall asleep and then I put it on when we are about to go to bed ourselves. So far, he has not figured it out! 🙂
Option 2. Let him pick out the music that he listens to at night. Perhaps he would prefer something funny or something calming. Amazon allows you to listen to music before you buy so check out a few of the tracks with your kids and get “buy in” from your little ones before you “buy”!
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I Spy is a great game that interests children and encourages them to dig into their vocabulary vault to find words to play the game. My helper, Rebecca and my son, Lucas, play a twist on the traditional game of I Spy to encourage vocabulary exploration in Mandarin. You can play the same game in your second language of choice and watch your child relish in using the words he has learned so far.
I spy is a great game to encourage vocabulary building in a second language while children have fun at the same time. With my younger daughter, my helper plays the traditional game of “i spy” with books to teach her words and have her gain confidence in using the vocabulary that she already knows in Mandarin Chinese (i.e. I spy a cat). However, for my son, we add a twist to the game as an additional challenge.
For him, I spy is a descriptive game where he needs to describe the item that he spies in a book in Mandarin Chinese until my helper figures out which object it is that he has in mind. If he does not know a vocabulary word in Mandarin Chinese for something that he wants to describe, he needs to find other words that he does know to get his explanation complete. Then, my helper takes a turn detailing the object that she spies on the page in Mandarin Chinese. They continue to play until it is time to go to bed!
How do you introduce your child to Chinese characters?
For a child used to English letters (the Latin alphabet consisting of 26 letters), the concept of Chinese characters can be hard to grasp. While some Chinese characters are drawn in a way that is similar to the meaning, many characters you simply have to memorize. How do you teach a four year old these characters in a fun way? Sure, I could have her write out the characters over and over again, but I want her to love learning Chinese and have a good first experience with Chinese characters. Check out the video below to watch my daughter’s first lesson with Chinese characters.
Step by step, this is how we kicked off her Chinese character education:
Step 1: English
First, I showed my daughter how to trace the words for dog, cow and bird in English. We went over the colors first and then she watched me write the words on a piece of paper using finger paint. I painted one letter at a time and went over the sound that each letter made. Then, she traced over my letters with her own finger to reinforce the notion that letters make sounds and come together to make words.
Step 2: Chinese
After the lesson in English, our helper taught my daughter how to make the same words (dog, cow and bird) in Chinese using simplified characters. One stroke at a time, my helper, Rebecca, showed my daughter the correct stroke order for each word. My daughter traced each stroke after my helper drew it until the character was complete.
Products To Help Do This Lesson at Home:
My daughter loved playing with the fingerpaint and learned about writing words in both English and Chinese. The following video captures an unrehearsed and unscripted conversation in Mandarin between my child and our helper, Rebecca.
Turns out that learning a second language actually makes you smarter! It was not long ago when pediatricians would counsel parents against teaching their children a second language for fear of speech delays and now studies have shown that the exact opposite is true!
A study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) found major differences in how the bilingual brain processes the sounds of speech compared with the brains of those who speak a single language. A bilingual person is better at picking out a spoken syllable, even when it is hidden within a variety of voices. For the first time, researchers at Northwestern University have documented this kind of distinction between the adolescent bilingual brain and the monolingual one.
Here is a link to the free abstract on the PNAS website for more information – warning though – it is quite heavy on the scientific terminology! If you would like to buy the full PDF it is 10 dollars. (more…)
Summary: Mei-Li is a digital “paper doll” that your child can dress up in different outfits for a variety of occasions. Your child learns basic vocabulary about clothing (i.e. sunglasses, shoes, etc.) to get Mei Li ready for a day at the beach, to head out to school, for cooking in the kitchen, to dance the night away at a party, to celebrate Chinese New Year, to play music, to hang out with friends or to go to bed. (more…)
Languages Offered: US English, UK English, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Mexican Spanish, French, German, Italian, Arabic, Russian or Hindi
Summary: A cute purple monster thinks up a “question” and the child needs to choose the correct answer from three choices.
Review: This app is probably our favorite. The questions reinforce language acquisition by asking from all different categories such as color, number, shape, patterns, math, and others. My child loves the concept of “feeding” this character and does not realize that she is learning at the same time. If the child needs a break from answering questions, she can poke the monster and enjoy a series of cute animations. (more…)