Learning Languages

Phonemes–those pesky sounds that make up words. Back in the first grade, when they started teaching us to read, my school used a totally phonetic format. As a result, I didn’t learn to read until the following year when my teacher taught me sight-reading rather than phonics. It seems that my ear can not hear or distinguish the differences between many phonemes. That’s also why I have struggled and struggled to learn foreign languages, despite my love of them. Reading and writing is not a problem (I even picked up written Russian pretty easily). But when it comes to speaking and listening comprehension–ack. German has been the only one I’ve had any luck with, mainly because it’s basically the same sounds as English.

The solution to this problem goes back to early childhood brain development, when all those pathways in the brain are being formed. The more phonemes a child hears, i.e. the more foreign languages the child hears, the better she will be able to hear and speak those sounds in the future. That’s the idea behind Baby Einstein’s Language Nursery, where the baby can listen to poems and songs in Russian, Spanish, French, German, Hebrew, Japanese, etc. They aren’t expecting the child to learn those languages, merely to have the sounds burned into her aural and oral memory.

So, we’ve started giving the Punkin all sorts of language input. My mother speaks French to her, I can do a bit of German, my husband has a bit of both. But none of us speaks Spanish, which is one language that will be almost essential to have a knowledge of in the future. So I looked around on the Net, and found A la Vibora de la Mar, a Spanish language series for children.

When I bought the DVDs, I thought it was just another language program. It’s not. This is total immersion Spanish, designed for native speakers. Which is wonderful! The Punkin is hearing all those sounds needed to speak the language–properly–down the road, and hearing them in a fun and vibrant format. The songs are catchy. Very, very catchy.

We own three of the four titles–Do Re Mi Nino (music), Los Colores de Rufino (colors), and 123 Cuentame un Cuento (counting). The fourth, Aprendiendo Tempranito, came out this spring, and I only just now was able to find it here. We’ll be getting that ASAP.

The neat thing is, the Punkin is starting to repeat what she hears. Even my old, unstretchy brain cells are picking up words here and there. As there’s not a lick of English in the programs, I had to have a friend make me a transcript of what’s going on. So now I at least know gist of the stories and songs, and since I have the words written down, I can help the Punkin sing along a bit.

I’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences with early language exposure.

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