Babies “neurologically commit” to language as early as 10 months

Yesterday’s New York Times summarized the latest research in babies’ acquisition of more than one language:

[T]he researchers found that at 6 months, the monolingual infants could discriminate between phonetic sounds, whether they were uttered in the language they were used to hearing or in another language not spoken in their homes. By 10 to 12 months, however, monolingual babies were no longer detecting sounds in the second language, only in the language they usually heard.

Contrary to earlier beliefs, babies seem to distinguish between different languages handily. The article reiterates earlier findings that “bilingual” exposure means face-to-face speech, NOT audio or video recordings.

For anyone wondering, Jacob’s most consistent Chinese word is huā (“flower”) and Wáwá (“doll”), although we use Wáwá as a proper noun.

Tiger Moms vs. Rintoo the Tiger

Amidst all the debate over Tiger Moms, I found this third episode in Ni Hao, Kai-Lan: Kai-Lan’s Carnival amusing and illuminating. In it, Rintoo the Tiger wants to be the “best skater in the world” but then realizes “It’s too hard” and gives up. Like a miniature Amy Chua, Kai-Lan comes to the rescue with this ancient wisdom: “When you try something new / and it’s really hard to do / Just take it slow!”

There’s only two words that this episode features: kuài (fast) and Jiā yóu (Olé, ¡olé olé olé!). Thus, the show basically takes a position pretty much the opposite of the Tiger Mom: your kids shouldn’t be challenged too much and need constant entertainment.

All together now: “Just take… it… slow!”

Ni Hao Kai-Lan : Lulu Day

I don’t think I’m going to review every single one of these, but Lulu Day was a slight improvement on Kai-Lan’s Carnival because both Ye-Ye and Lulu threw in a few Chinese phrases. Each phrase was a one-off and went by without explanation and minimal contextual explanation, though if kids watch the episode enough times, the phrases will rub off. (The only catchphrase Kai-Lan seems to use is “Gēn wǒ lái!”). There was a “repeat after me” moment at the end of this episode which was wasted on saying “Aaaar” like a pirate – which was doubly wasted because at least Kai-Lan could have said, “Now you know how to say ‘two’ in Chinese!”

Kai-Lan’s Carnival light on Chinese, heavy on sap

I suppose Ni Hao, Kai-Lan is the 800 pound gorilla in the English-Chinese bilingual space, but put me down for unimpressed after watching the first episode of this DVD, the titular “Kai-Lan’s Carnival.” The entire episode makes a serious effort to teach only one Chinese word, “lā” (拉), and a half-hearted run at teaching Chinese numbers. There’s also some fuzzy message about apologizing or something like that, which represents the biggest lost opportunity: the singing is all-English. Nothing helps stick words in your head like a good song, so why they didn’t even try to throw some Chinese in there baffles me. (They didn’t try teaching the Chinese equivalent of “I’m sorry,” either).

The one thing I am impressed with so far about Ni Hao, Kai-Lan is that it’s relatively calm and evenly paced (in sharp contrast to the seizure-inducing Yo Gabba Gabba). Kai Lan often pauses to ask the viewer what she thinks, and based on watching friends’ kids reactions, it’s a technique that works. Too bad most of the questions she asks in this episode have nothing to do with Chinese.