Engaging the Sensitive Period for Language


According to Montessori, there are “sensitive periods” in which the child is intensely interested in and ideally suited to learn different skills. The earliest and longest lasting of these is the sensitive period for language, lasting from birth to age six. Doman also speaks of the incredible ease of learning language in this period, although he caps the range at age five. Others say that native-level fluency is most easily attained between birth and age three, with the window of ease closing around six or seven years of age. There is a general agreement, however, that earlier is easier when it comes to learning language.

We are fully utilizing this sensitive period with baby D. In addition to the reading cards, we make sure that he hears several languages spoken every day. His dad reads to him in Russian. One of the Russian language books we have is  Voyage of the Dawn Treader from the Chronicles of Narnia series.

I read French language children’s books aloud– this gives me a chance to work on correct pronunciation, also. Our public library has a small but well stocked foreign language section in the children’s department. Here is what we have currently:

It is important to us that he hear language spoken correctly. While his dad has near native level fluency in Russian and Arabic, and very respectable Mandarin, I have what I learned in high school french class. So I am listening to as much spoken French as I can, exposing baby D to recorded spoken French, and pronouncing what I read to him as carefully as I can. We are very happy to be able to open up the world of language for baby D. It will be fascinating to see how his understanding of multiple languages develops.

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Next Step In Reading… and Russian!


The next step in using the Doman method to teach baby D to read is to add in two more sets of words, so that he will be seeing a total of twenty-five words every day. Now we are focusing on parts of the body. These are our first two sets of body words:

 

He will see these words several times, as well as the three sets of words we have been using. Starting tomorrow I will remove one word from all of the old sets and replace it with a new word. Each day thereafter one old word from each set will be replaced. I make sure to change the order of the words each time they are shown so that there is no association of the words based on pattern. This may seem like quite an ambitious program for so young a child, but Doman says that the child at this age assimilates information as fast as we can provide it, and that it is far more likely for a child to lose interest because of boredom from moving too slowly rather than to become overwhelmed with too much. Each session only lasts a few seconds– long enough to briefly show each card and say the words. We spend a total of a few minutes per day “playing the word game”. I figure if it works, great, and if not then no harm has been done and we’ve spent some time interacting. Before beginning each session I make sure I choose a time when baby D is alert and in a good mood. I then say either “I have some words to show you!” in an excited tone, or “would you like to play the word game?”. He often smiles and makes vocalizations when I offer the words. I think he enjoys it.

Baby D is lucky enough to have a multi-lingual father. He has been hearing several languages since birth, and will be given the opportunity to learn to read them as well. Today my husband will begin showing him Russian words. Here are his word cards:

Just like with the English words, my husband will begin by showing baby D one set of words, adding another the next day, and another the third day. He will show all of them for five days before beginning to drop an old word and add a new word every day.

One of the attractive things about this method is that there is no pressure to do everything perfectly. Doman stresses that the parent should always present words with a positive attitude, and take care to make sure that the child is in a good mood and wants to see the words. He also says that even a reading program implemented imperfectly can not help but benefit the child– no need to be obsessive about doing everything precisely the right way. There is no pressure on the child. Reading is a delightful gift, a key that unlocks the treasures of learning. Any attitude of compulsion or drudgery is anathema to this method. If this works, this will be a very pleasant way to learn to read.