My Day at Camp: Global Minds
No matter what country young children are in, a piglet, a llama and a sheep within petting reach elicit the same reactions: excitement, wonder, concentration and maybe even a little trepidation.
Wait! Those are the same traits needed to learn a second language!
On this warm June “My Day at Camp” morning, the young students—girls and boys ages 2 to 4—are sharing a small makeshift pen with a collection of docile farm animals on the playground of Global Minds World Languages Preschool and Academy in Scottsdale. Each week of the summer program has a different theme, and this week’s happens to be “Down on the Farm.”
The teachers guide the children from animal to animal, sharing key words in Mandarin or Spanish, the two principal languages taught at Global Minds. (English prevails, however, when the children are reminded “Don’t brush anything with feathers!”)
English, Spanish and Mandarin are today’s global languages spoken in North, Central and South America, Africa and Asia. That covers most of the real estate across the globe. They are also the languages of commerce. Many of Global Minds’ parents do business overseas. Some are expatriates of the countries where these languages are spoken. It makes sense that their children should be bilingual.
After visiting with the animals, the children file into the bathroom to take turns washing their hands. The teachers keep them moving with simple one-word commands or brief phrases in Mandarin or Spanish. Directions for transitioning to a new activity are often given through songs that help the children learn sounds.
Director Adam Maynard started the school last fall. After graduating from college, Maynard traveled the world and taught English in Thailand.
“We try to make it fun for the kids. But you can’t pressure them too much,” says Maynard. By teaching the language through fun, engaging activities and materials, young minds end up bilingual without realizing how much work it actually takes to learn.
Studies have shown that children are natural at mimicking pronunciation and intonation. Their inherent native language literacy skills transfer to learning a new language and enjoying the lifelong benefits of honing critical thinking skills along with mental flexibility and creativity.
I have experienced this firsthand. I spent my early childhood in France, where I became fluent in French within a few months and remain so today. As a teacher of graduate-level French, I have seen adults struggle to master a second language with mature brains that are less malleable and receptive to the intricacies of new vocabulary, not to mention grammar.
With newly clean hands, the children sit in a circle while teacher Chianna Tsai, of Taiwan, leads the children in some Mandarin songs and an exercise of matching animal flashcards with the correct Mandarin word. Tsai emphasizes the words by using hand gestures and facial expressions that hold her young students’ attention.
At this young age, the children are free from the shyness that we regretfully acquire as we mature and become more self-conscious and fearful of failure.
Global Minds’ philosophy proposes that “monolingualism is the illiteracy of the 21st century.” In today’s world, bilingualism is the path to the formation of responsible global citizens. The young, eager language students at Global Minds are a step ahead on that path.
A two-week-old piglet gets lots of attention.