Qué? Learning a New Language With My 3 Year Old

Family Matters on 04.19.12
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Photo credit Nick Vedros and Assoc/Getty Images

Lately I've been thinking about Patricia Kuhl's Ted.com talk about children and language. When I watched it a year ago a couple of things really stuck with me. One is that after age 7 we begin to fall off the linguistic map. That means that my 3 year old has about four years to (nearly) effortlessly acquire a second or third language that will glom onto her memory for the rest of her life.

Unfortunately I not only performed a swan dive off the second-language map several decades ago, but my high school Spanish and my college Italian, which I actually became somewhat proficient in, have been reduced to flotsam and jetsam of words and phrases bobbing in a sea of English. (Ho un brutto raffedore. I have a bad cold. That's helpful -- were I even to be understood where would I go from there? Mangiamo pasta? )

The idea is that I'll introduce my daughter to bilingualism and hitch a linguistic ride alongside her, adding enough knowledge of Spanish so I can cobble together a metaphorical dock of language to cling to in my sea of English. That way she can reap the benefits of a second language -- increased abilities in her logic centers, lightning-fast abstract thinking, belting out a Celia Cruz song with feeling, etc. -- and I can give my brain an upgrade of sorts.

That's right. Even though I'll be mangling yet another language I'll be exercising my brain with a new task, which in theory will help to build glial cells. These guys are responsible for helping your brain make faster connections, and taxing your noggin with new experiences is the best way to whip them into shape.

So today my daughter and I embark on a 6-week Mommy and Me Spanish course. It's a first step in what I assume will be many. And research shows that language development is all in the eyes, so it'll be important for us to get plenty of face time with instructors and fellow students along the way, perhaps even joining a bilingual play date at some point.

I envision the next year full of painful-to-listen-to pronunciations (me) and many, many corrections (from my daughter). I imagine it will be as if I'm suddenly reduced to a toddler, grasping for words and becoming red-faced with frustration, while my daughter softly consoles me in Spanish.

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