mandarin and spanish immersion

Trilingual Montessori Language Program

As Maria Montessori’s observations and current brain research has shown, children’s sensitive period to language is from 0 to 6 years old. Their brains are open to absorbing new information of all kinds - especially new languages.

Our trilingual language program complements a young child’s natural predisposition to new sounds and rhythms. At Battery Park Montessori, we expose our children to both Mandarin and Spanish throughout the day. Students in our preschool morning program, afternoon program and all toddlers gain light exposure to Mandarin and Spanish, while our full-day preschool students receive explicit language instruction in Spanish and Mandarin in the afternoons.

Children are encouraged to interact and express themselves in all languages on a daily basis. Children learn from Montessori-trained teachers who are native Spanish and Mandarin speakers and who fully engage the children in daily conversations, singing, and vocabulary. Lesson content like geography, practical life, and art also are delivered in Mandarin and Spanish in the form of classical Montessori education.

Why Spanish and Mandarin?

Spanish and Mandarin are the most spoken languages in the world. In exposing our children to Spanish and Mandarin, we hope to foster their global appreciation for and understanding of their peers and neighbors worldwide.

We also expose our children to Spanish and Mandarin to help them with other disciplines, such as literacy and math, and to further develop their executive function:

  • To learn a language, one must learn to decode that language, and decoding, within itself, is a universally beneficial and transferable skill - especially with regards to literacy and comprehension. For instance, learning Spanish can reveal the Latin roots for English words making it easier for children to decode and understand English text and vocabulary.
  • Research has shown that learning Mandarin, particularly distinguishing its four tones for the same basic sound, develops the brain’s temporal lobes which has a positive effect on the way non-language content, such as math, is processed.
  • Learning languages encourages children to rely on their working memory and mental flexibility. Memorizing songs, seeing patterns in language, understanding the relationships between words within one language and across others... this is all helpful in developing the brain’s executive function.

What if my child does not speak Mandarin and/or Spanish?

Both native and non-native speakers benefit equally from our language program: Native speakers not only refine their language skill, but develop self esteem and leadership, plus greater enthusiasm about the language as they see their non-native peers learning. Non-native speakers will have exposure to new sounds and their meanings during an ideal developmental period for language acquisition. Early exposure to a new language helps develop a number of skills and broadens a child’s horizons in many ways.

What if my child already speaks two other languages not spoken at Battery Park Montessori? Will my child be confused with the introduction of Spanish and Mandarin?

No. Much research has actually pointed to the opposite. Since children already have a subset of sounds from the learning of other languages and have been exposed to code-switching, or the changing of language(s) depending on the situation and the person to whom you are speaking with, these children already come in with skills that prepare them to take on other languages. Additionally, these children are already developing metalinguistic awareness, or the ability to understand the patterns in how language works, thus making it easier for them to pick up other languages.

We encourage families to continue speaking with their children in these other languages. Learning more than one language (any language) at such a young age builds a reservoir of skills that could be tapped into for different reasons both in the short and long terms. Studies have shown that the more languages a person knows, the greater the neurological “reserves” are in the event they are needed.

How do the language teachers approach children with regards to language instruction?

We treat languages like an area of the classroom, akin to math or cultural studies. Every child is different and every child will have different areas of interest. For instance, if we see a child loves art, we will tie that interest to math or science. This same approach applies to the learning of languages. We see where the child’s interests lie and then consider how we could introduce that same concept to the child in Spanish or Mandarin. We never push a child for we are guided by the belief that every child accelerates at different rates in different areas and we, therefore, have to wait for windows of opportunity to swoop in to introduce a topic or skill to a child. This same principle applies to our languages.

How often will my child have the opportunity to work with the Spanish and Mandarin teachers?

Our Spanish and Mandarin teachers are on a weekly rotation between our programs. For one week, the Mandarin teacher will “live” with the 3-6 year old cohort for both the morning and afternoon. During this time, the Spanish teacher will be with the morning toddler class and then the afternoon cohort. After one week, the teachers switch.

What methods do you use to teach languages in the classroom?

Besides the classical Montessori materials, we may use teacher-made materials that are in line with the Montessori philosophy. In addition to materials, the teachers sing a lot of songs – some of which have been translated from English so that the melody is the same and children have a general sense of what the song is about. We also use sign language for a few words to aid the child in visually and kinesthetically understanding their meaning. In addition, we have a list of common grace and courtesy words that all teachers – English teachers included – use throughout the day. Although our native language teachers avoid speaking in English, we do encourage our English teachers to model language learning in front of the children. Their efforts to speak Mandarin and Spanish are observed by our little ones and indirectly support them in taking linguistic risks.