The Learning Curve: Language Immersion for Babies

Sophia and I have recently started taking mommy and baby Italian classes together.

“But, she’s only nine months!” And, “She doesn’t even speak ENGLISH yet!” are a couple of the reoccurring comments I find myself fielding. While many of our family and friends are excited for us and eager to hear what we learn each week, others approach this topic with relative skepticism, as though my interest in another language and culture makes me some kind of over-ambitious, braggart of a mom – simply because I bypassed the socially acceptable baby swim lessons for something different.

With all due respect to swim instructors everywhere, I can teach my daughter to swim. By contrast, I certainly cannot (proficiently) teach her something I too am in the process of learning – Italian. And, well, I’m just not ready to see myself in a bathing suit, post baby!

With an Italian background, I think it is exciting and important to learn and practice the language and culture of generations past. As is commonplace with many Americans today, especially in New York, my family left Italy, planted roots in New York, and started a new life here. Though I am several generations removed from these brave and adventurous people, their stories live on through pictures and oral tradition. Consequently, the Italian language was lost in their willingness and desire to become “American” in every possible way;  pride in their new-found national identity meant a departure from old ways – in particular, the language of the their past. So, I am reclaiming a piece of my family’s past, and hoping, in the process, to instill in Sophia a love and respect for her ancestors.

This process has brought to the forefront one reoccurring questions – a question that can certainly be applied to any new undertaking: Is it ever too soon (or too late, in my case) to learn something new?  As a teacher, my inclination is to say “No! Of course not!” As a mom, it is my responsibility to offer Sophia as many opportunities to learn as possible, as well as spend quality time with her. We accomplish both in class: during our one hour of instruction we are also sharing intimità familiare.

As I began to dig into this question, I came across recently published research in Psychological Science (Spring 2012) suggesting that learning a foreign language helps people make quicker and better life decisions. I also read a study by the College Entrance Examination Board that reports a direct correlation between foreign language study and high SAT scores. The same study suggests that people who speak a foreign language often enjoy better career opportunities and higher standards of living. It seems there are even health benefits – research from the University of Chicago proposes that learning a second language may prevent dementia later in life.

This class we take together, I Più Piccoli at La Piazza di Carolina, is designed for babies and toddlers six months to two years old. Our wonderful instructor, Carolina, uses songs, puppets and props, (and biscotti!) to teach and reward the efforts of her bambini. I gotta say… the songs are pretty catchy, and I find that I am learning A LOT of vocabulary through them – especially because they get stuck in my head for days! That’s probably the point! At home, I reinforce what we have learned as I attempt to teach Sophia new words in both languages.

My husband (who is not Italian, but wishes he was – kidding) is so supportive of my attempts at bi-lingual life – as he endures (and finds hilarious) my many mispronunciations and over exaggerations of accent. He helps, too, by using Italian words when talking to Sophia. It’s becoming a family endeavor. That, to me, is quintessential Italian – everyone sharing in an experience. For us, we are sharing our learning, and ultimately sharing our joy.

Qui è ad una vita felice!

The Learning Curve (TLC) is a blog about education from a mommy-teacher, published every other week.

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Diana Kehoe is an experienced general education and special education teacher. She began her teaching career in special education in NYC, and currently teaches in Westchester County, NY. She is mom to Sophia Victoria, born in April 2012. While she loves teaching… she REALLY loves being a mom! The Learning Curve is her take on topics regarding education and parenthood from the perspective of a “teacher/working mom.”

The views and opinions expressed on this blog are purely the blog contributor’s. Any product claim, statistic, quote or other representation about a product or service should be verified with the manufacturer or provider. Writers may have conflicts of interest, and their opinions are their own.

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