As a teacher of young children, I am always aware that everything I do has some kind of impact on the future of each child. Maria Montessori, in her book The Absorbent Mind (1949), captured a young child’s propensity for assimilating and accommodating (to use Jean Piaget’s (1928) description of the phenomenon ) all of the information she is exposed to. As a young child learns about being a human being, her brain attends to the most relevant skills needed to gather information about what to do from people who are already succeeding — doing some things right because they are still alive! Communication is the key to understanding these living people’s secrets, and so a young child’s brain focuses much energy on learning their language. Mi Song Kim (2014, p. 154) referred to the New Literacy Studies of the 2000’s which describe language learning by young children as “a process by which individuals participate in specific literate communities and, in turn, co-construct the social practices of these communities.” It seems that emulating these social practices is one of the big reasons the human brain is so keen on capturing the key to social interaction – language, according to classic theorist on language acquisition and brain development, Lev Vygotski (1933). The fact is, according to both Vygotski (1933) and Kim (2014) a young child can learn two or even three languages with the same relative ease with which she learns one. The early years are the golden years for language learning.
So, how can a parent or teacher introduce their children to second languages, exposing them to natural conversation, if the parent/teacher is only fluent in his or her native language? An innovative online and iPhone application called italki, a leading social network for language learning, is helping people of all ages learn, and deepen learning of one or more additional languages by matching teachers, who are native speakers of languages all over the world, with language learners, who benefit from live and regular conversations with native speakers.
I learned about the italki app recently from my brother-in-law, Jean Michel, a French business consultant already additionally fluent in Spanish, Italian, and English, who needed to learn German to communicate with new clients. I have been trying to learn French in preparation for visiting France for a family reunion in the next year, and because my time is very limited, I have been using another language learning app, Pimsleur , while driving in the car, to listen to phrases, and repeat them. (While I’m driving is the only time I have to learn a new language.) When I mentioned this, Jean Michel said he used italki and is having learning conversations every week with a native German speaker. I have been amazed over the last 20 years by Jean Michel’s ability to learn new languages, so I respect his recommendation. However, the following blogs also review italki’s usefulness as a tool in bringing new languages into the lives of children, where they can have a really powerful effect on a person’s future gifts with languages:
I am excited, once study for a doctorate degree in education (which currently uses all of my spare time) is complete, to personally learn and improve my ability to communicate in languages other than English, using italki. However, I intend to immediately begin to incorporate it into my work with young children. It’s free!