Let me start this post by explaining that – despite the fact we own several English-Italian bilingual books – neither my toddler, nor my preschooler, speaks a second language. Having said that, I’ve just backed a Kickstarter campaign to develop a new kind of language-learning book for children, and I think it could radically change the way kids learn (so watch this space).
Like a lot of people, I have really mixed memories of learning languages as a child. Everyone in my school started off learning French. When I moved to a different school half-way through the academic year, I was signed up to Italian lessons as well. My home town, Bedford, has a huge Italian community – the biggest number of Italian families in the UK according to the Guardian a few years back – and I’d happened to find myself at one of the town’s two Roman Catholic middle schools. For a large proportion of kids, the Italian language was, if not their first language, one that was at least spoken by their wider family.
Thanks to some brilliant teachers, I carried on with both subjects until I got to upper school (another Catholic one), where I opted to drop the French. The reason? For Italian, I was put in with a roomful of native speakers. The teacher didn’t say a word of English from the start until the end of the lesson, and neither did we. As one of a few non-native speakers, I was thrown in at the deep end, and although I felt like a fish out of water it made the world of difference. My French just couldn’t keep up, and so Italian won by a mile.
Fast-forward a couple of decades and I now cling to that GCSE in Italian to get me through our holidays to Italy. We’re off to Sicily in a few weeks, so it’s right at the front of my mind, and it’s depressing to think how much I’ve forgotten (I used to be able to hold a conversation, and can just about ask where the toilet is these days).
It’s even more depressing to think how sponge-like my brain was back then compared to now, and that’s precisely why I’m so keen to encourage my kids to learn another language from the word go. Working in the travel industry, I’ve seen how a second language can pave the way to so many new opportunities, and I’d love for my two to be exposed to Italian as early on as possible in the hope they’ll keep it up.
One Third Stories – and why they need your Kickstarter pledge
A couple of nights ago, Alex Somervell got in touch to tell me about One Third Stories, his business startup with partner Jonny Pryn. Their aim is to produce a new kind of bilingual book for children: a story that starts in one language, and ends in another. Within about 10 minutes of watching the video on their kickstarter page I’d signed up as a backer. For 30-odd quid, not only do I get a copy of the book (English to Italian, of course) but I may even be able to help shape the future of One Third Stories in some little way.
Alex, who grew up in South America speaking English and Spanish, met Jonny at school in Bedford eight years ago. Realising they had a shared passion for languages and storytelling, they teamed up and now hope to be able to bring their bilingual books to life. The onus is very much on storytelling, so that kids pick up new words without even realising – all One Third Stories all start in English, and gradually move into either French, Italian, Spanish or German.
The books will be perfect for parents, like me, who are keen to help their children learn a second language but don’t have a clue where to start. You can reserve a copy of the book here, and have a read of Alex’s handy tips below to get you started…
Alex from One Third Stories’ 3 ways to help kids learn a second language before they start school…
1. Make it fun
Jonny grew up with an angry French teacher who had a cockney accent. Not ideal, as you can imagine. At a young age it’s so important that kids enjoy what they do, so steer clear of the words ‘education’ and ‘learning’, and avoid verb tables like the plague.
I genuinely believe stories are one of the best ways to engage kids in learning. If it’s a good story they’ll read it again and again, so they literally learn as a consequence of enjoying a story.
2. Put new words into context
Context is key in understanding new words and I grew up mixing languages, which we’ve found can be a great way to get kids learning and using foreign words. You can simply introduce new words in the foreign language by using a familiar context. For example, next time you tell your child to “give me a hug” you can say “give me an abrazo”.
It’s never been done before but we’re applying this concept to create the first story that starts in English and ends in a different language. We call this the Clockwork Methodology and have tested it out with over a thousand teachers, parents and children, and the results have been really positive!
3. Use them anywhere and everywhere
Languages shouldn’t be confined to 45 minutes a week of language clubs, lessons, or an app or game. Take advantage of the fact that kids are sponges at this age, and embed foreign languages into daily activities – TV, sports, music or stories!
One of the things we’d love to try going forward is to apply our Clockwork Methodology to existing storybooks so that kids will be able to read a book like The Three Little Pigs, for example, that starts in English and ends in German.
Watch this space!
One Third Stories is available to back here on Kickstarter until June 16th, and there are various ways you can support the campaign – from sharing this post, to getting your kids to submit an idea for the next story.