What’s the big deal?
A person might know 60,000 words but can’t make 60,000 sounds. We only make a limited number of sounds. Linguists call these sounds phonemes (/fo-nemes/). We combine and recombine groups of phonemes to make all the different words we use.
The English language has approximately 42 sounds that combined creates over 250,000 different words. Guess what you arrogant Americans?? That leaves roughly 100 phonemes that are used in all of the world’s languages that we English speakers don’t use. Doh!!! That is what makes learning a new language difficult…because other languages contain a lot of sounds that are unfamiliar to us.
Spanish uses 10 other phonemes that we don’t use in English. French has another 10 unique ones and the Japanese language has 6 unique ones.
Bad news for us adults, Good news for fetuses (in utero) and babies who are just learning language.
So how do you “hard wire” your fetus or newly born baby or toddler to learn these phonemes?
I’m thinking the womb is a good place to start. (wow, who says “womb” anymore?) Listen to books on tape of another language. Rosetta Stone anyone? In the car, while asleep, get your daily dose of Mandarin or Cantonese a la sublimial placenta messages. woo saaah. While baby grows in her teeth buds and hair follicles, she can be learning a little Konichi wa or Guten tag.
Or you can just search and find The Babbler. The idea is the Babbler helps brand-new minds get a grip on various foreign-language building blocks while they are young and truly open minded. My middle boy pronounces Spanish words with eerie precision and very naturally. The eldest recalls his spanish flashcard words like a pro. I took 3 years of High School and 4 years of College Spanish and if you drop me in Madrid, Havana or any other random Spanish-speaking country or Miami, Florida, I’m doing alright, but probably gonna be suckered unknowingly into paying $75.00 for my dulce de leche ice cream cone!
Unfortunately, the product isn’t sold any longer and it is hard to find. And it was pricey to boot at $49.99. You can find it at some auction sites much cheaper or if you get lucky, you might strike it rich at a consignment shop or a thrift store… but only those in neighborhoods where you’ll find neurotic obsessive, over educated and finicky anal moms like I
am was. I’m going to pass mine down to generations in my family, though I may be persuaded by the right offer! hahahaha!
From a 2000 G4 Review: Having the appearance of a cuddly toy about the size of a small pillow with bright colors and interesting textures, the Babbler proclaims “hola” when first touched or gently moved. Keeping the child’s attention with multicolored lights and touch the device continues to cover sounds unique to non-English languages such as rolling Rs in the word “rana” or the “ko” sound in the Japanese word “koto.” The unique phoneme is then repeated three times before the word is given to reinforce retention. If the infant waits five minutes, the Babbler will move onto from Spanish to French with an upbeat “Bonjour” followed by Japanese and so on. The essential idea of the Babbler is very simple. It provides repetitious reinforcement of those basic sounds needed to develop the neural pathways to future language learning. Since children develop millions of synaptic connections in their first few months of life, providing exposure to sounds and basic language building blocks early can be helpful to cognitive learning in the future.