Apr 26, 2010 – In today’s global economy, the need for learning foreign languages is of critical importance. It is also well known that children have the ability to learn languages much more easily and faster than adults. What has only recently been demonstrated is that the ability to actively learn languages is present much earlier than previously assumed.
Researchers have recently documented that even newborns cry in their native language. Comparisons between babies a few days old in France and Germany revealed that newborns cry in the same melody patterns that are typical of their respective mother tongues. The data showed an influence of the surrounding language phonemes, pitch and rhythms on the babies’ cry (1). According to Dr. Kathleen Wermke, “The melody patterns practiced in crying are building blocks for subsequent sound productions, from cooing and babbling through to the first words and sentences”(2).
Additional research has shown that hearing two languages during pregnancy puts infants on the road to bilingualism by birth. A recent study showed that infants born to bilingual mothers (who spoke both languages regularly during pregnancy) exhibit different language preferences than infants born to mothers speaking only one language (3). The work revealed that language discrimination is robust at birth and that language preference at birth reflects previous listening experience (4).
These findings point the way to new approaches to teach foreign languages to newborn babies. By utilizing a system based on scientific principles of language acquisition, parents can provide their children with the opportunity to start learning the basic sounds of a foreign language in a more effective manner than just listening to simple words and sentences.
Smarty Ears LLC, a company from Dallas, TX, has released a new patent-pending teaching method to expose babies to the sounds of a foreign language. The application is called “My Bilingual Baby”, and is available for Apple Inc.’s iPhone, and iPod Touch®. “My Bilingual Baby” may be utilized with children of any age starting as soon as a few weeks from birth.
The goal is to expose children to all sounds of the target language as soon as possible to prevent the potential loss of their natural ability to learn a foreign language. Based on the premise that the sooner children are introduced to the sounds of a foreign language, the easier it will be for them to become proficient later in life, Smarty Ears has developed this method to boost the child’s inherent language acquisition abilities.
“My Bilingual Baby” goes beyond simple lists of words and phrases. Unlike other teaching methods for babies and children, in this system the baby is exposed to phonemically balanced words, carefully selected by trained speech and language professionals. In this product all phonemes of the language are presented in the three positions of the word: Initial, medial and final.
One significant advantage is that the phonemically balanced words are also presented to the child at the phrase level. The child will become familiar with the intonation of the language and of its various grammatical features. He/She will learn that each language has a different intonation and speech pattern. An additional product feature called “Polar Opposite Sounds” will teach children that a change in a single feature of a particular sound can change the entire meaning of the word.
One of the options in “My Bilingual Baby” is to automatically play all of the sounds with the feature “Play All”. With this feature parents can place the iPhone or iPad next to the baby while they relax or attend to other chores. It is also a useful bedtime strategy, since parents can rest assured that their children will be cognitively stimulated listening to the sounds of the language until they fall sleep.
“My Bilingual Baby” has already sold hundreds of copies all around the world. The Spanish language has been chosen for the first version of the product, and is available for English- and Portuguese-speaking parents. However, Smarty Ears plans to release this application in a variety of other languages. While the graphics are optimized for use with the iPhone and iPod Touch, the application can also be used with the iPad.
With this product, bilingual or monolingual parents can introduce their children to the sounds of the Spanish language. The application for English-Speaking parents can be found at this linkhttp://itunes.apple.com/us/app/id353788600?mt=8 and the application for Portuguese-Speaking parents is available at this link http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/id360586208?mt=8.
Smarty Ears, LLC has developed over 12 iPhone, iPad & iPod Touch applications for Speech Therapy and Language Development. For more information about the company, please visit the websitehttp://www.smarty-ears.com/
1) Newborns’ Cry Melody Is Shaped by Their Native Language, Current Biology, Volume 19, Issue 23, 05 November 2009
2) Language begins with the very first cry. University of Würzburg 05/Nov/2009
3) Bilingual babies: The roots of bilingualism in newborns PhysOrg.com February 16, 2010
4) The roots of bilingualism in Newborns, Psychological Science, 21 (3) 2010
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Smarty Ears is a trademark of Smarty Ears, LLC