If you’re a yummy mummy then you’ve probably taken your bundle of joy to a baby massage class, even tried kids yoga and are probably booking your little one in for a tots spa day. However, you may want to rearrange your child’s diary to squeeze in the next big trend in the mamarazzi world – baby Spanish.
Start Them Young: It is no surprise mums, in and around London, are taking their tots to foreign language classes as experts say it’s important to start them as young as 6-months-old because it helps to shape the brain at its most flexible stage. Decades of research, including the Critical Period Hypothesis, also claims when a child gets older, the brain’s ability to restructure itself slows down, and by between 6 and 9-years-old the window is virtually closed. This probably explains why young children can learn one or more languages almost effortlessly, while older kids and adults struggle to become fluent or develop good accents.
Ellie Baker, who teaches the Baby Loves Spanish class, also insists that learning a second language increase brain power. She said: “Babies and young children grow new brain cells to process the particular languages they are exposed to. Bilingual children tend to have significantly larger density of grey matter, which is the part of the brain involved in muscle control, sensory perception such as seeing and hearing, memory, emotions, and speech.”
Another argument for introducing another language early on is that children will develop a natural-sounding, native-like accent. This is because babies are constantly absorbing the sounds they hear. The more sounds they are exposed to before they can actually talk, the easier they will find it to mimic the native accents of other languages. There is also an argument that learning another language can ward off dementia because studies noted in the journal Trends in Cognitive Sciences have found that the brain can sometimes draw from second language skills which occupy a different region of the brain.
What Really Goes On In A Class: When I first heard about the Baby Loves Spanish class, I was worried it sounded pretentious. But after taking my son Ibrahim, one, (pic above right) for a term, I soon discovered that could not be further from the truth. In fact, the class is a really fun way of boosting your child’s language skills. Sessions are currently held across Berkshire and South Buckinghamshire but Ellie is keen to franchise the business to bring it into London and across the country. The class we attended in Windsor involved learning Spanish through song and dance. Popular nursery rhymes are first sung in English and then repeated in Spanish. Ellie uses props to reiterate certain words. My son loved singing Twinkle Twinkle Little Star in Spanish because Ellie would dim the lights and switch on a special lighting effect that created the image of a night’s sky on the ceiling. He also loved it when Ellie pulled out a horse puppet because he knew it was time to sing Horsey Horsey. Of course the lyrics to some songs were changed slightly to rhyme well in Spanish. Incy Wincey Spider doesn’t translate well in Spanish so the song was changed to Ana La Arana which means Anna The Spider. But that didn’t confuse youngsters because as soon as they saw their mums perform the actions for the song they knew what to do. Ellie, 34, set up Baby Loves Spanish after spotting a gap in the market from taking her one-year-old daughter Seren to lots of baby classes. And after 10 years teaching in schools and training other languages teachers she fancied a change that would fit better around family life. And that is why she insists learning doesn’t stop once families leave her class room so she has also produced a CD of Spanish nursery rhymes, which can be bought at classes or downloaded from iTunes, that allow tots to carry on singing in Spanish at home.
Age groups: The class is split into three groups depending on your child’s age. The good thing about this is that your child gets to interact with kids the same age. They learn to communicate and share which is a vital skill to learn and is particular important if it’s your first baby. It starts off with Bebitos (baby) which is from newborn until they are sitting up. This class is a calming, sensory class for new mums and babies with massage and gentle movements for parent and baby. The next stage is Gatitos (kittens) and is aimed at kids who are crawling-toddling. It is suitable from when a baby is able to sit unaided until they are confident on their feet. The last stage is Exploradores (explorers) and is for toddlers and preschoolers up to 4 years of age. It is super-active and lots of fun. This is the class I started my son in.
Realistic Expectations: If you are keen on taking your tot to a language class it is important to have realistic expectations. Obviously your baby isn’t going to transform from a tot saying basic words in English to having full bloom conversations in Spanish. But the hope is that they’ll pick up a few words and the theory is that it will subconsciously become rooted in their mind. So that when they are taught Spanish in school, their knowledge will come to the surface and hopefully give them a heads start on their peers.
Social skills: By interacting with other kids away from the comfort of their own homes, children also pick up new social skills. I noticed this after the end of each song when Ellie encourages all kids to put away the props they’ve used in a bag once a song is over. Anyone with a young child will know how hard this can be. There were many times my son refused to give it back. But eventually over time he understood the concept of tiding up – and now actively tidies up at home.
Verdict: My son loved it. There were many times he just ran around the room as the songs played and I wondered if anything was going in. But after a few weeks when I sang Rema Rema Rema El Barco (Row Row Row You’re Boat) at home – he stated doing all the right actions and recognised the songs. The environment is relaxed and the fact that Ellie is a mum herself really helps. She is always welcoming even if you’re running late and doesn’t judge if your child has a tantrum, refuses to hand back a toy or needs to eat a snack during the class. I’ve been to a few music classes and they can get boring as songs are often repeated. But Ellie makes sure she introduces new songs each week which keeps the youngsters and their mums alert.
For more information email firstname.lastname@example.org Alternatively, log on www.babylovesspanish.co.uk or call 07868 711581 for more information.
Other popular Spanish classes in London and across the country:
*La Jolie Ronde runs Spanish classes around London. Log on www.lajolieronde.co.uk to find a suitable session near you.
* Language Monkeys holds Spanish classes for 0 to 5 in Swiss Cottage, London. Visit www.languagemonkeys.co.uk for more information.
*Ole Kids also runs Spanish class for 6 months to 10-year-olds across London. Log on www.olekids.com for more information on classes across the Capital.
* Bright Eyes runs Spanish classes for kids in Sheffield and the South Yorkshire area. Log on www.babybrighteyes.co.uk for more information.