Nearly 4 years ago, I became pregnant with my first child. Twenty days after the pregnancy test showed two lines, the morning sickness started. I had hyperemesis gravidarum (extreme morning sickness). It lasted until the 10th month - the day I gave birth to be exact. At the time, I was also managing a law practice. To say that I felt overwhelmed, unprepared, and terrified seems kind.
Because it was clear that I would not have a smooth pregnancy, I decided to focus on post-pregnancy. I researched all things infant-related for when the baby did arrive, and to distract myself from the fact that I spent 80% of my day with my toilet.
That’s when I came across this Ted-Talk from Patricia Kuhl.
To sum up Dr. Kuhl’s research, there is a critical period for language learning during a child’s early development. As infants, all babies from all over the world can discriminate all sounds of any language, making them “citizens of the world,” as Dr. Kuhl would say, until about 9-months of age. Adults, on the other hand, can only discriminate sounds of their own language and not of other languages.
However, although babies are no longer “citizens of the world” after 10-months, the critical period for optimizing language-learning does not end until around 7 years old. Language acquisition is usually significantly more difficult anytime after that period.
After I watched this Ted-Talk, I knew exactly what I wanted to do for my baby. Armed with this new information - I decided to start looking for ways to expose my little one to live language instruction the day that she was born. My partner and I decided to expose her to Mandarin Chinese and Spanish - two languages we did not speak ourselves - but we had a tough time finding tutors for both languages. Frustrated, I decided to find a very early childhood language class, however, I was informed that she would not be permitted to start until she was older - years after that 9-month window.
I quit law and I decided to put my educational experience and technical background to use by founding Smart Coos. Smart Coos provides parents with the services and tools that I needed when I was trying to raise a child that speaks more than one language. In addition to live instruction, Smart Coos provides text nudges that contain relevant language content so parents may easily reinforce the language at home. Smart Coos even provides assessments so parents can see their child’s progress as they learn a second language. Currently, Smart Coos offers courses in Baby Sign Language, Mandarin Chinese, Spanish, French and English, with a goal of becoming the trusted go-to destination for all-things-language for children.
DJ at 2-years old counting in Mandarin Chinese. She takes live Mandarin, Spanish and French classes on Smart Coos.
For children, the benefits of knowing more than one language results in leaps in standardized test scores and improved performance in school. Through Smart Coos, raising a bilingual child from birth just became more attainable.
This article was originally published on Smart Coos’ blog.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Mirta Desir is the CEO and Founder of Smart Coos, a web-based platform where children get live bilingual instruction and language assessment to support language learning, both at home and school. Mirta was also the Founder and CEO of Link Haiti, a nonprofit that provided short-term solutions for the 2010 earthquake in Haiti.
Mirta holds a BA & BS in Philosophy and in Communication from Syracuse University, as well as a Juris Doctor from Loyola University. She is fluent in Haitian Creole, American Sign Language and is proficient in French. She has received awards for humanitarian work with children and education, including from the Caribbean American Chamber of Commerce and by the Children’s Services Council of Broward County.