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A Parent's Guide to Early Second Language Learning:
Introduction to the
OptimaLearning Language for Kids Series

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Luini:
Madonna & Child

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by Pamela Rand and Margaret Chambers

Congratulations on choosing this OptimaLearning® course for your child. This gift of early exposure to another language will build a wonderful foundation for language learning for both you and your child. Your child will have greater success in school and more opportunity at work in a global economy, if he or she can speak another language.

Why You Should Expose Your Young Child to Other Languages

Studies show that the earlier you expose a child to other languages, the greater the child's mental development. Verbal skills, comprehension, and self-confidence are enhanced significantly. When parents foster their children's capacity for language, they also encourage cognitive flexibility which is critical for success in school.

Before your children can speak a language, they must be able to hear the particular sounds and auditory frequencies of that language, according to Dr. Alfred Tomatis, world-famous specialist in hearing and psychology of learning language. From the womb through early childhood, youngsters have a wide open sensitivity to a range of sounds. They quickly assimilate the accents, inflections and sound patterns of any language to which they are exposed. Children know most of the grammar of their native tongue and its daily vocabulary by the time they enter kindergarten. During this natural language development period, children quickly and joyfully pick up any language without conscious effort. Language permeates their activities.
Young children can easily imitate the sounds of other languages before their tongues and ears are conditioned completely to the sounds of their native language. Children's minds encode new languages differently after the age of ten to twelve. Then biological and cognitive changes in the brain shift the processes of learning languages. It becomes more difficult to learn a new language without using patterns and pronunciation from the languages that one already knows.

Neuron development in the brain is critical in a child's pre-school years. Stimulation develops neuron networks that in turn determine the child's ultimate physiological brain capacity. When children learn a second and third language, they are actually increasing their cognitive flexibility, a key to problem solving and creativity. Dr. Tomatis demonstrated that hearing a language correctly is the most critical skill in language and learning development. Once children acquire the ability to hear the full range of another language, this capacity remains even if the language is unspoken for many years. When children begin formal study of that language in school, they retain the ability to speak with native intonation and accent, and are considered "gifted" in learning the language.

The Advantage of OptimaLearning's FRENCH/SPANISH/ENGLISH/ FOR KIDS

You do not have to speak the language of the program in order to share this special learning program with your child or class. This course incorporates the OptimaLearning method and is designed to allow non-native speaking parents or care givers to teach the lessons correctly and confidently. Native speakers of the target language have recorded the text and songs clearly so that your child will hear the language spoken accurately. You can relax and learn together with your child in a fun and easy way.

Each lesson is carefully designed for the young child with an interesting conversation, a short rhythmical song and vocabulary that the child will understand and enjoy. The following instructions introduce you to the OptimaLearning method. They describe how to set up an ideal learning environment, how to use toys or objects to enhance learning and how to select additional activities. The audio tape delivers the individual lessons. It also contains supplementary vocabulary that is introduced through a specialized learning technique of Reading with Music™. This technique reinforces long-term memory and easy recall.

Although designed for youngsters ages 2-12, this course can be enjoyed by children of all ages and adults as well. If you have older children at home who want to learn English, you can enlist their help in teaching the younger ones. They can teach the new language while increasing self-confidence in their ability to learn the language at the same time. Many mothers expose their newborns and sometimes their unborn infants to language and songs. Studies show that the fetus begins to "hear" sounds of the mother's voice at four months. This early exposure helps stimulate the brain and create optimal conditions for future mental development and ear training.

Principles and Concepts of OptimaLearning

Dr. Ivan Barzakov is the internationally recognized educational psychologist and expert in mind development who created the OptimaLearning system. The principles and concepts summarized below are applicable to all areas of learning and teaching.

RECEPTIVITY

Learning is optimal when all levels of the mind are open and receptive. The subconscious mind should be receptive, not resistant. This occurs when learners are accepted, encouraged, and happy. Several components of the OptimaLearning system help create this receptivity expectancy, ritual, rhythm, intonation and especially Educative Feedback™.

EXPECTANCY, NOT EXPECTATIONS

Expectations are your greatest enemies! Unconsciously you will project these expectations to your children, who may be frustrated when their performance falls below your expectations. But they may be learning in their own way at their own rate.

Accept your child. Create for that child the sense of delight and expectancy that something wonderful is found in another language. "Expectancy" shares with a child the joy of discovery and the anticipation of new skills. Help your child get excited about learning.

RITUAL

An OptimaLearning ritual is a set of specific actions or use of an object that begins or ends each lesson. It is used to reset the child's emotional readiness for learning. Another way to "alert" your child is to take your child on your lap for a special hug and a quiet moment just before starting the lesson. Create a ritual that fits your child. You may lead your child on a brief imaginary journey to the United States by airplane or magic carpet. Most children love to pretend.

ACCEPTANCE

In OptimaLearning, "acceptance" is a fundamental principle for both teacher and learner. First the teacher must accept his own abilities as they exist at the moment without self-criticism. You may or may not be able to speak English fluently. Whatever your current ability, acknowledge it, accept it and act. The lessons are designed to teach your child anyway.

In the same manner accept your child. Acknowledge her attention span and need for activity. Work with your child's natural curiosity. Don't try to teach. Just expose the child to the recorded lessons and help the child respond to the new language in action and song.

EDUCATIVE FEEDBACK™

One of the keys to stress-free learning is Educative Feedback. The purpose of feedback in any system is to change future output. Educative Feedback is non-judgmental. It addresses only facts or performance not the person. It is fundamentally different from correction or criticism. Educative Feedback builds self-confidence. It assumes that not knowing the correct answer is a regular part of the risk of learning. In language learning this can be achieved through the technique of "layering." This means that you will not directly interrupt or correct your child or children when they make mistakes. Instead you will encourage their responses in the new language. You will find opportunities to substitute a better (more appropriate) model without labeling or calling attention to error. If the child says, "He like balloon," you may respond, "Yes, he likes the balloon. ""Or if the child says, "Why is the stars so bright?" respond, "They are so bright because..." If you ask your child to identify an object and he or she calls it by the wrong name, don't say, "No, that's not right." Simply make a statement, "This is a ball." or "These are flowers." Remember to encourage. the child's experience and participation, no matter how unsatisfactory it appears according to your criteria. When supported and encouraged, your child will acquire the correct pronunciation and grammar as he or she develops.

RHYTHM & INTONATION

Music has several special functions in OptimaLearning. The melody and rhythm provide an enriched framework for the memory. Children's songs are replete with repetition that aids learning as it provides a sense of the familiar. In this series, specially created songs will help your children learn and effortlessly practice new vocabulary. The clear voice of the teacher with a simple accompaniment is effective in its simplicity and intimacy. Your own voice is also an instrument. Listen to Its quality in storytelling and conversation. Is it gentle, tender, inviting? Do you vary the pitch and timbre to create suspense and drama? Use your voice to create an atmosphere of playful, happy learning.

Before You Start

Before you begin, familiarize yourself with the guiding principles of OptimaLearning above. Think about how you can apply them in other ways to your parenting, caregiving or teaching.

OptimaLearning Environment

Create a special OptimaLearning environment for these language sessions. This environment should be intimate, pleasant, and warm space where your child feels very comfortable. Select a place that has minimal distractions, such as a corner of a room or an area on the floor with the tape recorder nearby. If you choose the floor, you may want to use pillows for you and your child.

Another essential feature of the OptimaLearning environment is the symbol. This symbol could be a flag, a special doll, a picture, map or some other item that symbolizes for you the culture of the new language. This does not have to be associated with any particular lesson. The symbol serves as a signal that the session is about to begin and helps the child and you to "shift" to another world. Put the symbol away at the end of the lesson. Creating a special place and ritual around the beginning of a learning activity assists the child in making the transition both mentally and physically. It helps the learner to retain the information longer with easier recall. Dr. Barzakov suggests that you encourage those ritualistic associations with the Optimalearning environment which evoke the joy of learning in your child.

Alerting

The "alerting technique" helps your child with any transition. You alert your child whenever you give him a signal that you plan to change the activity. For example, "When you finish eating, we're going for a walk." Or, "When you finish drawing that picture, we're going to listen to Lisa and John." By alerting your child, rather than interrupting his activity with an immediate command, you give the child a few brief moments to complete an activity and move to a new one. Alerting helps minimize resistance to changing from one activity to another. The ritual should help build anticipation and excitement about the upcoming language lesson.

OptimaLearning is fun. If you need to get materials or arrange something for the OptimaLearning environment or for the suggested activities of a particular lesson, enthusiastically invite your child to help. "Let's get our pillows so we can listen to Lisa and John." "Come and help me draw butterfly wings for our English lesson." If you feel comfortable, you may want to begin speaking in English as you make the transition.

Build anticipatory pleasure by reinforcing the child's competence and accomplishment. "You're learning the names of so many animals. Isn't it fun!" Or "I love to hear you sing. Shall we learn a new song today in English?"

Keys to Successful Learning

Relax and let the tapes provide the initial models of language. Your child can take the lead by imitating Lisa or John. As you feel able, engage in verbal exercises with your child. Don't be inhibited by your own lack of knowledge or fluency in English. Don't force your child to memorize. Exposure is the key. Your child is a natural language learner Don't turn a lesson into a drill. There is always another opportunity. Meanwhile, appreciate the unseen learning that precedes spoken language.

Active Listening

Listening is the first step in learning a language. Help your child become an active listener. Show your excitement and interest in the songs and conversations. Let your face register emotion-wonderment, surprise, delight. Pantomime the dialogue. Use physical gestures. Sing the songs. Encourage your child to sing too.

Multi-sensory and Physical Response

Response to language is the next step in a child's learning. According to Dr. James Asher, the creator of "Total Physical Response" approach to language learning, you should let your child respond physically to language before seeking verbal responses. For instance, point to the pictures, reach for the sun, run to the door, wave to greet a friend.

Move with your child's own pattern of learning. Use all the senses. Encourage your child to touch, move, sing, speak, even taste and smell. One lesson involves food. Have your child touch, smell or taste different foods. In the activities you can become as imaginative and playful as possible. Don't rush the child. Enjoy the absurd. Encourage laughter. We teach our young children their native language by asking them to respond to our commands "sit down, eat, come to mommy." This is effective for children learning a new language too.

Listening with Music

To reinforce and review these lessons, play the audio cassette at other times during the day, perhaps while riding in the car. An ideal time for absorption and retention is in the so-called 'twilight zone' - just before going to sleep and right after waking up. Founder of modem accelerated learning, Dr. Georgi Lozanov wrote, "Allow a certain amount of the information to come through unconscious learning."

How Often?

Try to have your OptimaLearning language sessions once a day. Repeat a lesson several times using different activities before going to the next one. Then review it three or four days later and at least twice during the following week. You are not trying to achieve mastery, just exposure and growing comprehension. Follow the OptimaLearning lesson sequence above. You may extend periods of play and improvisation. Quit before your child is tired or bored.

As your child learns the songs and conversations and begins to respond verbally to questions, use English to review and expand activities. Listen to the tape as if it were a favorite story. Children love repetition, especially when they can anticipate and participate in singing or telling the stories.

Easy Does It!

Above all, just as you wouldn't push your child, don't push yourself. The activities in this workbook are designed for optimal results, but you do not need to do them all. Select those that fit your child's age and interest. OptimaLearning should be fun for your child and you. Use these principles of OptimaLearning:
  • Receptivity
  • Expectancy
  • Acceptance
  • Educative Feedback
  • Rhythm and Intonation
Improved language memory comes through repeated exposure from different angles and perspectives, according to research by Georgi Lozanov and Ivan Barzakov, and confirmed by studies of Karl Pribram, world renowned neuro-scientist, and Michael S. Gazzaniga, pioneering brain researcher and psychologist. Don't push your child to memorize. Avoid struggle! Just continue to provide language exposure in regular, stress-free, playful environments. Be gentle with yourself and playful with your child. No one is going to test you. Don't test your child. Remember you "listened" to your native language for many months before you learned to speak. Enjoy your child's phenomenal gift of learning language.

BASIC LESSON SEQUENCE©
  1. Gather learning materials.
  2. Advance the audio tape to the lesson you are studying.
  3. INVITE your child to learn. Build expectancy by moving into your OptimaLearning® environment with your opening ritual.
  4. LISTEN to the short conversation on the tape. Follow along in the book while you listen. Point to the picture to help your child make connections.
  5. DO selected learning activities with your child playfully.
  6. LISTEN again to the recorded lesson.
  7. CLOSE by putting away your ritual object or any lesson prop.
  8. Reinforce the lessons by listening to the audio tape at home - in the car and before going to bed.


© 1993, 1997, 2000 The OptimaLearning Company. All rights reserved.

This article is part of the OptimaLearning Language for Kids series for French, Spanish and English, published by The OptimaLearning Company in association with Barzak Educational Institute, Novato, CA.

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