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Learning a foreign language early: opinion?

  1. #1
    MISS SOFEI is offline Registered User
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    Mar 2012

    Learning a foreign language early: opinion?

    As most of us know and experience on a daily basis, HK is a very competitive city where the race to be number one starts very early. Well actually as early as a few months old...

    Having seen hundreds of babies attending my classes, I am wondering about the actual prospective for most families?

    Most commonly there are the total believers in early learning and the opposite thinking "how do you teach a baby??!!" or "how can a baby learn!!??"
    There is lots of resource out there to show how amazing your baby truly is (ask me if you need).

    Learning very early on is for sure a shortcut to difficulties later in life.
    Numerous are the students who succeed by the age of 6 because they started to train their brain with French or any other language before 2years old.
    The accent, the tone, the grammatical structures are integrated in their little head. The connections between the neurons are built forever (if trained REGULARLY!!)

    In France, when I was in primary, we hardly started Basic English words and what a difficulty later on in University when being asked to be fully bilingual on certain programs.
    Europe is for sure way behind regarding early learning, there is a big myth of "stealing" the childhood if learning as soon as possible. (What May 68 thinking!)

    Yet many centers in Hong Kong have different concepts, some are frankly speaking super marketing oriented for you to buy packages/materials with yearlong commitment (and big holes in your wallet!!) Others will make you believe sitting there listening to a foreign language in (what I call) a messy nonsense play style class will lead to Einstein geniuses.
    Let me remind you Einstein spoke late and failed college entrance exam, so please no nonsense references again from education gurus trying to market new parents who are lost.

    As far as I witnessed, everything in life as well as for learning is about balance, the same goes for cooking, relationships, professional life...
    Early learning requests a lot of logic approach, babies are individual people with feelings and emotions. Like everyone they like to do some things and some other don't. I might like drawing, you might prefer speaking and so on...Adding up to the baby personality is his/her environment, who are the parents and what do they do at home? (TV? Books? Interaction?)
    Let me tell you, in HK "geniuses" are in 95% revising lesson materials at home, parents are involved in the learning; they do what we call reinforcement. This plus the bonding and love they share make the early learning all easy and accessible to all. If parents are working or busy they most often will ask for a tutor help which works too.

    I hear many parents telling me "I don't speak French, I can't help". Believe it or not yes you can, nowadays new technologies (even though invasive at times) also help us to thrive in new areas. And thus babies get to hear beautiful French stories or music for free (yes things for free still exist as long as you got a native approval for the quality).

    Being a new parent is like entering a new world, shaking things upside down and if possible setting up a stable routine. From my observations, a healthy and productive learning is one that is regular on a weekly basis, same goes for any activities with your little one such as yoga, or massage. Kids as well as we do, like to find their marks and set up stable daily routines to feel secure. By then they are able to learn and move ahead.
    How for example could you start learning how to stitch if you go to alternate classes and also change the day/time each week, it would drive you uncertain and you would learn slowly? Same goes for babies ;) They are no different sometimes!

    Lastly, as we all know, the economy is harsh at the moment, Learning Centers come with very creative concept until how to teach your kid how to play :0 , be aware of false promises and keep realistic, yes your baby can learn (with your reinforcement and support), yes your baby has an intrinsic nature with innate capacities that you and QUALIFIED professional (native does not mean qualified) staff can nurture as early as 1 day old.

    What is your opinion about learning babies? What is your experience? I want to hear it all ;)
    Let's share our stories and make this forum rich in ideas ;)

    MISS SOFEI (one of the many French teacher in HK)

  2. #2
    Siesta is offline Registered User
    Join Date
    Jul 2012
    Mui Wo
    I believe, a baby will benefit more from educated parents than from getting an education.
    I have no doubt that learning languages is good to develop the brain and the mind of a baby/ child. However I would never enrol my toddler in any sort or academic class. She first need to learn how to be independent, safe and how to communicate efficiently. This on top of all the other hydro cal skills she needs to master (mobility, eating by herself, using the toilet, etc.)
    There is plenty of time to study once the basics have been learnt mainly at home with the parents.
    Last year, at 15 months, I took her to swimming lessons. I wanted her to be safe around water - she now is.
    I wouldn't have spent the same time, effort, commitment and money to get her to learn a foreign language or music or anything remotely academic.
    (although our situation is maybe different from most as my husband and I have different mother tongue and we communicate together in English - my toddler is therefore subjected to 3 languages since birth.)

  3. #3
    MISS SOFEI is offline Registered User
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    Mar 2012
    Dear Siesta,

    Thanks a lot for sharing your experience, it is really interesting and open minded ;) Your child is lucky ;)
    Yes indeed, it is true, learning goes along with elementary skills for life such as physical independance. May I ask where are you from?

    When you mention parent education though:

    I would like to ask anyone on this parenting forum.
    What is your thought if you want your child to know more than one language but do not speak any (or your spouse)?
    How would you try giving your infant a chance?

    Waiting to hear from any of you ;)
    See you Siesta ;)

    I will share some parent questions from time to time as I feel it can be useful.

    MISS SOFEI, french teacher

  4. #4
    charade is offline Registered User
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    Jun 2010
    I have a similar attitude to Siesta. I'm not that interested in my child learning a foreign language, except for Cantonese/Mandarin and that's because we live here and it's important to speak to be able to integrate. In my case, we might leave before they are old enough for it to be of use so I'm not really putting much effort into it. But if I was serious about my child learning Cantonese, I'd have enrolled him in Cantonese kindergarten and probably playgroup before that. We live in a very Chinese area, with not that many expats, so he's hearing Cantonese all the time and without any prompting has already picked up a few words (Fai di la!) So I would hope he would absorb a lot naturally and I might have supplemented with online resources and a tutor for homework.

  5. #5
    Jomama is offline Registered User
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    Jan 2012
    Tung chung
    LOL charade! As 'Fai di la' means "quickly" or "hurry up" in Cantonese, and it basically sums up the mentality of Hong Kongers!!

    My husband and I speak both English and Cantonese fluently and I also know Mandarin and French (with horrible accents). Instead of doing all languages meshing together, I strategically begin with English as my boy's first language from 10-26 months. (I started at 10 months because I realized at that time a solid mother tongue is essential to a child's development and emotional growth). He started speaking in full sentences at 23 months and now at 28 months he's quite articulate and tries to convey complex ideas (such as a story with process/steps and reasoning).

    Originally we started with the ideal "each parent speaks one language to the child" method, and it worked in a sense that my son would speak to me in English and naturally switch to Cantonese with his dad. However, given the boy spends most of his time with me, his Cantonese was gravely lagging behind, and my husband started switching to English unconsciously when kiddo started to speak. To compensate the problem to ensure the boy do stay bilingual, we started the second best method after all his English school interviews were completed (at 26 months): I speak to him in English in the morning and slowly switch to Chinese after his nap. I do this only after I was certain he could identify the two languages clearly, which he already did around 2 years of age. It was difficult at first (and still is, given he's more comfortable speaking English with me and would say 'bye bye Chinese' at certain times; I slowly identified the problems and gently work around it so that he doesn't feel pressured). Now he's more comfortable with Cantonese and start making sensible conversation with the Chinese speaking neighbours, and his daddy was able to keep speaking Chinese with him as well.

    All the while, my boy had his constant weekly French lesson just for fun as well as the occasional Mandarin exposure (I decided to drop Mando for the time being as the boy grew into his own person and took up sports as his probably life-long passion). He will learn mando soon enough in Kindie, and given the Chinese exposure he already had, I'm sure he'll pick it right up like I did, minus the horrible accent.

    My thinking is to strengthen one Asian and one European language for the time being (I'm using 'European' and 'Asian' loosely in reference to English and one Chinese dialect). Given Mando is close to Canto and French is not too far from English (in a border sense if one looks at all world languages), hopefully this has given him a good foundation to acquire languages if he decides to do so in the future.

    Anyhow, thank you for letting me share our language journey so far and I hope it helps other parents with young minds. I agree that consistency showered with lots of love is the key, and wish everyone all the best in nurturing your children.
    Posted via Mobile Device

  6. #6
    MISS SOFEI is offline Registered User
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    Mar 2012
    Dear Charade and Jomama,

    First of all very sorry for my late reply! Since the site got updated and redesigned I have not received notifications of your inputs.

    Before starting I would like to thank you for your wonderful post which I am sure will be really helpful for parents wondering where to start with language learning.

    May I share my views again?

    From the above testimonies I think each family has an individual experience, different surroundings and rules to themselves.

    The common thread that is environment develops patterns and automatism within the infant.

    To summarize:
    A baby in a Cantonese cultural environment with two Western parents will catch up both languages (one "Asian": Cantonese, Mandarin/one "Western": English, German…). Even though the mom might feel it is not necessary to teach, it is done on a natural level with the everyday routine and exposure (Radio, TV, Shop keeper, Taxi driver, MTR announcements…). The baby brain gets exposed to the same sounds on and on which facilitates pronunciations later on.

    Also I would like to share views on independence, as Siesta mentioned she first would like her child to be physically “set” then consider moving onto academical programs.

    In my opinion, all skills relate to each other and none are self-sufficient. To develop an infant can be exposed to a bit of each, routine of learning independence can also go through language learning or Montessori activities or even feeding time... (With basics concepts such as colors, shapes, numbers…).
    Nevertheless in Siesta’s case, I believe exposure is done naturally with the new born who ineluctably get exposed to language and its concept. (Lucky her)

    “No need to learn a second language?”
    Nevertheless to be born in HK means pretty much to be trilingual from infancy if you consider the political/economical/geographical situation.
    Cantonese has its cultural roots and history within the Guangdong province.
    Mandarin is now deeply related to HK territory for business and other reasons.
    English has its use on the international scene for business and Western related matters.
    So as a matter of fact being born in HK is to be “trilingual” (to different extent of course!) by the first day even though over here it is not considered as learning foreign languages because it is pretty much innate and effortless (yes people are not always fluent in English but there is a sense of natural exposure, take Seven 11 for example, staff does know basic English skills for sales matters).
    Only the many who want to master those languages in their depth enroll in classes and tutoring.

    Switching from one language to the other throughout the day seems a good compromise to give chances to both languages. Same as Jomama, I tend to speak only French to my students and once out of the classroom for more personal matters we chat in English, it creates a context and they do grasp the rules and appropriate circumstances.

    To strengthen one “Asian language” and one “Western language” (to summarize it very BRIEFLY) and adding on the following naturally (Start with Cantonese then Mandarin and at the same time start with English then French for example) is a great compromised for a pressure free learning.

    “Showered with love” is a shared thought by us all (hopefully)and does help to reinforce brain connection within infant years. (Cf Studies of Orphan Nurseries in Eastern Europe, no loving touch=no development).
    Loving touch and bonding allows learning new things and create wider synaptic connections.


    miss sofei-discover and learn

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