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Parents say ‘oui’ to more brain power

Ingrid Larsen, a French teacher at Lil Linguists Learn, uses a doll to teach French to 2-year-old Emily Jackson while her mother, Barbara Jackson, looks on. - Margo Horner/The Mirror
Ingrid Larsen, a French teacher at Lil Linguists Learn, uses a doll to teach French to 2-year-old Emily Jackson while her mother, Barbara Jackson, looks on.
— image credit: Margo Horner/The Mirror

Some families in Federal Way are aiming to boost their baby or toddler’s brain power through a second language.

Children from birth to age 5 are in their prime time for learning a second language, said Susan Patel, who just opened Lil Linguists Learn language school in Federal Way. Slight variations in pitch and pronunciation are more easily picked up by a baby or young child’s ear, she said.

“Early childhood is probably the best time to learn language,” Patel said. “Babies are born with the ability to hear phonetic sounds.”

Over time, the ability to distinguish slight phonetic variations fades as babies are exposed to only one language, Patel said. It is best to teach them foreign languages while they are young — before they grow accustomed to using only one language, such as English.

Learning a second language in early childhood can increase scores on standardized tests such as the SATs for children as they grow older, Patel said.

“People that have studied language score higher in reading and math,” she said.

A recent study by researchers from London’s Wellcome Department of Imaging Neuroscience indicates that people who speak more than one language have denser gray matter in their brains. Dense gray matter is associated with more intellect, especially in the areas of language, memory and attention, according to www.webmd.com.

The study also found that the younger participants learned a second language, the more dense gray matter formed in their brains.

Children who learn second languages very young also have a better chance of recalling that information years later than do students who learn language in high school, Patel said.

“Theoretically, it’s like a computer putting software in it. It should be in there,” she said. “Early childhood is a window of opportunity to learn a language.”

Bilingual and multilingual adults often have an advantage over their English-only speaking peers when entering their careers, she added.

Wendy Hall, 37, predicts that with globalization trends, foreign language proficiency will be equally important in the next generation as a college education is in this generation, she said. That is why she enrolled her 3-year-old son, Griffin, in French classes at Lil Linguists Learn.

French was the best choice for Griffin because Hall and her husband both speak French as well, she said. The additional practice at home helps solidify the lessons learned in class.

At home, Hall commonly uses the French terms for things such as washing hands, brushing teeth, finding the car and brushing hair.

“I think he’s made some progress. I can utilize a word and he can understand what it is,” Hall said.

After two weeks of classes, Griffin seems to be making additional progress, she said.

“He likes the teacher quite a bit, and I think that makes a difference in how children learn is having a teacher that they connect with,” she said.

Patel, whose 2-year-old and 3-year-old children are learning Spanish, said that although teaching language at home can be beneficial, children learn easier in a social environment.

“Language learning is a social endeavor,” she said. “You can teach it at home, but it’s going to be much more difficult.”

In Lil Linguists Learn classes, the entire class except for 10 minutes is conducted in the foreign language. There are games, songs, play, meals, arts and crafts and other activities related to language development.

April Victor, a Spanish teacher at Federal Way High School, said she was pleased to hear about a language school for young children in Federal Way.

“I definitely know that students learn languages easier at that age,” she said. “Students in the United States really should be exposed to more languages early on.”

As the business world becomes more global, it will be imperative that students entering the workforce are able to communicate in various world languages to be successful, Victor said.

Contact Margo Horner: mhorner@fedwaymirror.com or (253) 925-5565.

Lil Linguists Learn offers classes in Mandarin Chinese, French and Spanish for children ages birth through 5 years. For more information, call (253) 861-4971, e-mail staff@lillinguists.com or visit www.lillinguists.com.

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