Preschool language learning with the Lingo Show… say nee hao!!

I just found out about this new CBeebies show on BBC that tries teaching toddlers all kinds of different languages with a special focus on Mandarin. It is called the LINGO SHOW and UK based readers can watch the show on the bbc iplayer here. Given that many pre-prep schools in London teach French from Reception and many teach Mandarin or other second languages shortly after, is it a good idea to get started early?

Preschoolers can pick up several languages very fast and are particularly receptive to sounds that are unusual in our Western languages, so it must be a good idea to expose them to a wide variety of sounds from early on. Even if they didn’t remember anything consciously later on, they might pick up on subtle differences in intonation that are very important in many non-Western languages. I watched the first episode with my 18 month old daughter for fun today, and even though I don’t think she picked up anything, I in fact learnt two Mandarin words (nee hao for “hello” and heng hao for “well done!”), while she enjoyed the music and was jumping up and down in our living room with my iphone.

So do I think a cartoon TV show is the best way for a toddler to learn? Absolutely not. In fact, research has shown that children learn far more from their mothers or human interaction that from a radio or TV. Babies are geared to pick up on real voices along with watching faces, the movement of lips, and need interaction for learning. Watch this talk by language expert Dr. Patricia Kuhl who shows that American preschool children interacting with a Mandarin teacher several times a week learn far more than preschool children hearing Mandarin or TV or from a CD.

What does this tell us? If you want to check out the show and pick up a few words yourself, by all means check it out! But in all educational programmes, especially with preschoolers, any parent should know that they are the most important element in their children’s learning, not the TV or a Baby Einstein DVD. Your preschooler will learn more and enjoy the show more if you watch it together, interact, repeat the sounds together or sing songs together. The show may brush up your own knowledge and give you new ideas on what to sing, and because of that it can be valuable. But don’t expect a 2 year old to learn Mandarin by herself from a TV show!

What do you think?

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