There are so many things said about how good it is to teach your child another language at a young age that one would think everybody would join in. Living in such a close proximity to NYC, gives many reasons to teach children other languages from early age, yet it takes a lot to commit to it. Could it be that an idea of learning a foreign language intimidates us, adults so much that it makes us reluctant to expose our children to it?
Naturally one's experience with a new language is always personal. For example for me growing up in Russia learning English at school was unbelievably dull and exciting at the same time: it was like learning a language you may never speak and hear about countries you may never visit. Life plays its own jokes and so it happened that I moved to Germany right after college and was faced with a necessity to learn German: that made me to forget all about the English of my school days. This was also the first time in my life when I was actually actively speaking another language. Despite all the excitement of this extraordinary experience I couldn't help but notice that people around me were used to speaking more than one language on a daily basis and most of them learned two or more languages at school. The Europeans are wildly known for being multilingual mostly because they come in close contact with different languages in their every day life from early childhood on. This exposure eliminates the fear and makes it more natural to learn different languages. The school system incorporates all the necessary tools and support, and stress the importanceof this skill.
The decision to raise my children bilingually was a result of those observations and experiences. We exposed our son to German and Russian languages early on. By the age of 4 when our family moved to New York, he was already speaking both languages. It took him three months to become fluent in English. I on the other side needed much longer to get my stiff school English to live and breathe.
In life, personal experiences very often entwine and influence one's professional career. Being a teacher and a parent made me a strong believer of a child's unlimited ability to learn languages. I get to meet young children whose parents put all the doubts aside and let their children learn multiple languages. Last year I had four children in my class, ages three to five who were learning a third language. I was very fortunate to help and support those families at the beginning of this learning adventure. The most important lesson I have learned throughout my teaching career is that we shouldn’t limit children's curiosity in any way. Parents and teachers are there to provide productive environment for the children's natural learning experience.
Luckily, for me an opportunity to create this kind of environment presented itself and I become a part of a team of enthusiasts, teachers and parents who founded Prospect Academy of Westchester. The pre-school/ daycare setting give us a possibility to have multiple language programs for children ages 2 to 5 under one roof increasing their exposure to different languages. It all started as an experiment when we designed two bilingual programs: German/English and Russian/English side by side. All of the children were very strong in English and the teachers were supporting their second language. After some time we observed how children, playing together in their common language English began “teaching" each other Russian and German; without any interference of the teachers they began to acquiring a third language!
In our schoolProspect Academy of Westchester we aim to supportchildren’s natural curiosity and ability to interact with each other and create a safe, comfortable, interesting environment for them to learn and explore. We are constantly adjusting our curriculum to our students’ needs, interests and developmental differences. This process isexciting and rewarding because we strongly believe that if the children have such a place to play they will learn!
Lada Tillmann, mom, teacher, Program Director at Prospect Academy.