I have known my husband, a Czech, for more than 10 years, yet I speak no more than “I am...”, “Look!”, “goodbye”, and “very good”. It’s so poor that it’s embarrassing.
My children’s ages add up to less than 10. They are already able to communicate with their dad in Czech, and the older one carries in-depth (and never-ending!) conversations on a daily basis about a wide array of subjects. This is in addition to other two languages they have also acquired during their tiny lifespans.
Granted (and unfortunately), I haven’t made a consistent effort to learn Czech. But neither have our children! What has enabled them to learn languages so much faster and more easily than an intellectually adequate adult?
The answer lies in the “super powers” that children possess between ages 0-6. One of them is called the “absorbent mind”. This is a special type of mind that is difficult, if not impossible, for our adult minds to comprehend. This absorbent mind allows the child to absorb everything in his/her surroundings effortlessly, completely, and without discrimination. Another “super power” of the young child is the sensitive period for language. They have such a heightened awareness of languages in their environment and are drawn to not just words, but the intonation, pronunciation, and accent of the languages.
When children are immersed in a monolingual environment, they absorb everything about that language to the level which it is used and develop their language skills accordingly. This means that although a child always develops language skills, in a rich language environment, she develops rich language, whereas, in a poor language environment, she develops poor language. Similarly, when children are immersed in a bilingual environment, they are able to absorb and acquire characteristics about those spoken languages effortlessly. I stress spoken language because it is the foundation for communication. When children are equipped with the basic skills for communication, we then support them further in the acquisition of writing and reading.
With the powers of the absorbent mind and sensitive period for language, the prime time for acquiring language skills for multiple languages is undoubtedly the first 6 years of life. After this period of time, much more and deliberate effort will be required to learn a second or third language, and the person may never reach the “nativeness” she/he could have reached during the first 6 years.
Our bilingual Montessori environment is a language-rich environment. The "richness" is not just reflected by the existence of two languages, but also by the fact that within each language, we strive to provide children with a vast amount of vocabulary and cultivate a deep appreciation for language. We model appropriate use of language with precise words and correct grammar. Children are exposed to many forms of language in the environment (books, stories, poems, songs, rhythm, music...). All of these efforts are aimed to help the child build the foundation of intelligence.
When children are immersed in such a language-rich bilingual environment, their acquisition of each language is not compromised. Better yet, the stimulation from two languages has been proven to help expand the brain’s learning potential by building more neuron connections - an experience we inspire to provide to all children in our community.
Interested in learning more about how our bilingual, authentic Montessori environment will support your child's development? Schedule a tour!