A loud Bravo! Can be heard coming from the room next door as Madam Hargitt, the name by which Marie-Jeanne Delevaux-Hargitt prefers to be called, compliments her preschool students on their project for the day. What is this I hear from the preschool office? It is French being spoken by both teacher and students in the new one day French Immersion preschool class now being offered at Normandale Preschool. This was an experiment. Would parents be interested in a preschool, French Immersion class? It seemed a wise direction knowing the popularity of Edina’s French Immersion school, but who would teach the class? It turned out to be none other than Madam Hargitt, one of the founders and former kindergarten teacher at Normandale French Immersion. With much evidence pointing to the benefits of early language immersion, we feel that we made the right choice in adding this class to our preschool schedule. In addition, we found a phenomenal teacher in Madam Hargitt. She is magnifigue ! French Fun, Mais Oui!
Normandale’s French Immersion Class meets on Monday from 12:30-3:00
Taught by none other than Marie-Jeanne Delevaux-Hargitt or Madam Hargitt
By Kali Sakai
Why language immersion?
“Around age 6 months, infants are capable of discriminating the sounds of all the languages of the world,” says Naja Ferjan Ramirez, Ph.D., outreach specialist for the Institute for Learning and Brain Sciences (I-LABS) at University of Washington.
In other words, babies are born with the potential to speak any language. But Ramirez also notes that at 12 months, the infant’s brain has begun to specialize and focus on the sounds of the primary language(s) she hears. (This concept is explored further in a language-learning study published in 2011 in the Journal of Phonetics.) Essentially, the earlier children are exposed to languages, the better their chances of retention and proficiency.
One of the best ways to impart another language, especially if it’s not already spoken in the home, is language-immersion learning. When they have direct access to native speakers and use a language in the context of social cues, young learners are most likely to be impacted long-term by the language. A 2003 study titled “Foreign-Language Experience in Infancy" describes children as young as 9 months showing significant phonetic learning from live exposure (as opposed to audio or audiovisual recordings), proving that language learning doesn’t require long-term listening, but rather social interaction and context. As a result, language-immersion preschool programs are becoming more and more popular across the country, and Seattle is no exception.
The benefits of bilingualism
● Better understanding of one’s primary language, because learning a new tongue teases out similarities and differences between the primary language and others (per the 2000 handbook Dual Language Instruction).
● Brain activity tests described in a New York Times article from 2011 show that bilinguals have a heightened ability over monolinguals to monitor their immediate environment and keep track of what’s going on more efficiently.
● A 2008 study published in Applied Developmental Science supports evidence that a bilingual child’s ability to operate between two languages strengthens mental flexibility, self-control/self-regulation and the ease of switching between mental tasks.
● And, according to a 2013 study published in Neurology, bilingualism may even delay the onset of dementia in old age by as many as five years.
All parents wonder excitedly what their child’s first words will be — and then there are those who wonder in what language they’ll hear them. For some families, multilingualism helps keep cultural and ethnic heritage alive; others are drawn to the promise of personal and professional opportunities in the future. Either way, multilingualism has been proven to offer immediate cognitive advantages to kids and to help their brains work more efficiently.