The first time I was asked by a Spanish soon-to-be-Mum where she could practice her English singing nursery rhymes, I was flummoxed. Do you want to learn English in during your maternity leave, I asked her. Are you looking for singing lessons? Neither, in fact. What she wanted was for her child to hear her talking and singing in English before being born. She wanted her baby to learn a forgien langage in the womb!
What may have seemed quite an odd request was actually a very astute observation. Nobody was offering tiny tots English in Madrid at the time, and in fact it is still rare today. Yet since then I’ve been asked on a regular basis for workshops for Mums & babies and I’ve paid special attention to the rising body of evidence that shows that newborn babies are able to recognize different languages. Furthermore Eva Paris points out in her article “bebés bilingües ya desde el vientre” (Bebes y Mas, 10/2/10), that a newborn baby is only able to distinguish the fact that two languages exist if he or she has been exposed to the languages whilst in the womb,. Babies that gestated in a monolingual environment will only pay attention to words or stimulus solely in the language that they have heard within the womb, disregarding any sounds made in a second language as not being interesting.
Given the fact that language learning as a tool for communication begins within the family circle, it is in therefore in baby’s interests to be exposed to a second language continuously and naturally from the womb. What better way to do so than through songs and short stories? Don’t get me wrong. We are not talking about giving English classes to bump! This is about offering different language experiences whilst in the womb via easy and fun songs which make both Mum and baby smile.
So where can a pregnant or newborn Mum and baby go to sing songs or buy books in English with language support to listen to at home? Given the healthy market of activities in English for children in Madrid, I was surprised to find that the only person offering exactly what I was looking for – tiny tots English – was our friend Jennifer Doran from English Escape. She has two sessions, one at St George’s Anglican Church on a Thursday morning and the other on a Saturday morning at her academy near Retiro (more information: email@example.com). She also has a range of Little Fingers First books on sale in the academy from Mon-Fri, 9h – 17h, with titles suitable from the 3 months onwards.
I would be interested in finding out about other tiny tots groups in Madrid if there are any. As we all know, there are playgroups such as Sticky Fingers, Apple Tree Club & Dance with Me that all take Mums and babies from a year onwards. It’s the tiniest babies I’m interested in! In the meantime, I’d like to leave you with a video (in English) and an article (in Spanish) that talk about bilingualism in babies from the womb.
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