The first thing you need to know is that my wife, my daughter and myself are assholes. Not the mean type, but the annoying type. The kind of horrible, disgusting yuppie parents you see in this wonderfully entertaining video:
The second thing you need to know is that that video, written in probably 30 minutes, is hundreds of times more interesting and informative than the Little Pim series of language education videos. That is, the Little Pim videos, which are intended to help small kids learn French, Spanish, Chinese, Arabic and half a dozen other tongues, are boring. Here’s how they go:
The series stars an animated panda, Pim, who rolls around and doesn’t speak or really do much of anything. There is no story. Rather, things progress thematically, through subjects like food. There’s a video clip of an apple and someone speaks the word “apple” in whichever language you’re watching. Kids eat apples, the word is repeated a bunch, and then it’s on to the next fruit. Whee. Every time Sasha, who’s 2, saw this, she demanded I give her an apple.
And that, sadly, was about as involved as she ever got with the series (Little Pim had sent me the Chinese and French DVDs for review). She never requested us to play it again, and I can’t imagine she learned anything from it.
Not that she doesn’t want to learn languages! This is a kid who speaks a good deal of Mandarin already (thanks to her Taiwanese mother, Chinese nannies, and bilingual preschool), as well as some ASL, thanks to the “Baby Signing Time” series of videos. But Little Pim just didn’t capture her imagination.
What’s the difference, then, between Little Pim, Baby Signing Time, and Sasha’s Chinese education? Well, far be it from me to cast scientific doubt on the Entertainment Immersion Method™ developed by Julia Pimsleur Levine, daughter of the renowned language teacher Paul Pimsleur, but it’s missing what I consider a vital element: song.
Sasha’s Chinese education is, for example, far from organized. My wife tries to speak it at home, but as often as not she ends up combining English and Mandarin within a single sentence. And at Preschool of America, Chinese is just sort of thrown into the mix, but not necessarily “taught” explicitly. Sasha, however, knows tons of Chinese-language songs—”Twinkle, Twinkle,” “Ba lobo,” “Liang zhi laohu“—and even sings them to herself, often without our prompting. She’s learned them from CDs we have at home, and from song circle time at school. And whenever we let her watch “Ni Hao, Kai-lan!” she’ll actually say “Ni hao!” to the TV. She loves this stuff because it captures her imagination, instead of presenting her with the preschool version of facts.
Likewise with sign language. The Baby Signing Time series was built entirely around songs—”Sunny Day,” “I’m a Bug,” and so on—and although Sasha’s kind of outgrown the series, she continues to sing the tunes and reference their lyrics out in the real world. And this is in a series of videos that are teaching her how to communicate with deaf people!
So, look. I won’t say Little Pim won’t effectively teach your child how to say a few words in Russian. But it’s hard for me to imagine any kid becoming truly attached to the roly-poly digital panda, or screeching demands to watch the videos again and again and again. Which is, as much as we parents hate it, a pretty damn good sign that our kids take something seriously.