With Kindergarten seats in a New York City Gifted & Talented program, or even a general education school with solid test scores, growing harder and harder to land, many parents are looking for other enriched educational opportunities for their children.
One such option is a dual language program, where children study the same curriculum as everyone else, but while alternating the language of instruction. Some schools offer one day in English, the next in a foreign language, while others split the day in half. Current options include French, Russian and Mandarin, with Polish and Arabic coming soon.
For one dad's take on why he chose it for his daughter, click here.
But, by far, the most popular dual language option in New York City is Spanish.
The idea behind a dual language program is that half the class are native speakers in one language, and half in the other. Naturally, being a native non-English speaker moves any child to the head of the line where a dual language program is concerned. (English-only speakers can apply to their district, and even some out of district programs, but if demand exceeds supply, like everywhere else, the schools will go to lottery, or other means of selection.)
To that end, even parents from English speaking households have attempted to make their child fluent in a second language in order to make them a more attractive candidate for such a program.
Mommy Poppins recently did a round up of great kiddie classes for learning Spanish.
And Red Tricycle published an assortment of fun and unusual ways to teach children a variety of second languages, including Ballet Hispanico's bilingual dance classes.
In addition, Little Pim, a foreign language-learning program for young children, has just introduced a series of Spanish, French, Italian, Chinese and English “Discovery Sets” intended for ages 0-6.
Their "Entertainment Immersion Method" includes three teaching DVDs (along with a cute, plush version of their mascot, Pim the Panda) and strives to engage a child’s love of play by watching real kids and animation, while utilizing repetition techniques to help children retain new vocabulary.
“We live in an increasingly global world – one where speaking a second language carries many benefits,” said Julia Pimsleur Levine, Founder and CEO of Little Pim. "With the exposure that Toys“R”Us lends to our product, we can make language learning easy, fun and accessible for children everywhere.”
(And maybe help them get into dual language Kindergarten!)
Little Pim sent a complimentary Spanish Language Discovery Kit to the NY Gifted Education Examiner for review, including one DVD on "Eating and Drinking," "Wake Up Smiling" and "Playtime."
While the animation in the DVDs is definitively engaging, as are the videos of real-life children doing things like playing dress up, painting, riding bikes, blowing bubbles and more, the biggest obstacle to learning that I could see came from the fact that the videos are, in fact, totally immersive.
There is no translation at any point. Words are both written and spoken on-screen (though, since most children under six can't really read, the oral component is key) over an image. We see a little girl putting on a hat, and we hear a word. But, does that word mean hat? Does it mean girl? Does it mean getting dressed? The same goes with a scene of a child pretending to cook in a toy kitchen. Does the word being said mean cook? Eat? Kitchen? Food? Stove? Pretend? The DVD never clarifies before moving onto the next subject.
Just this week, TIME Magazine published a piece on the benefits of the bilingual brain. They highlighted new research that indicates babies become accustomed to the cadence of a particular language even before birth - during the third trimester, and that the first year is a prime time for programming the brain to recognize a variety of languages. That window proceeds to shrink as the years go by and, after the age of six, learning any new language becomes progressively harder.
Based on the above findings, it would seem that Little Pim's primary benefit would be to optimize the brain for future learning of a specific language by teaching it to recognize the unique sounds native to every tongue, rather than implanting specific vocabulary.