North Charleston, SC April 22, 2016- Charleston Bilingual Academy (CBA), in Park Circle, is claiming that they are changing children’s lives. Their tagline is “Inspiring World Changers.” Preschool is often centered more on keep children safe, and teaching students basic cognitive, physical, and social skills preparing them for Kindergarten and beyond. However, the founder of CBA, Dr. Nathan Johnson, contends that preschoolers actually are geniuses in one area, and their aptitude is usually left untapped. That area is language.
Educators refer to preschoolers as “preoperational thinkers.” While they have great memories, their thinking is one-dimensional. For example, a 4 year old has incredible capacity to know the names of several symbols such as letters and numbers. They can even learn many “site words”, recognizing the names for more complex symbols such as “cat”, “hat”, and “bat”. Although a preschooler can recognize the letter “A” (one dimension), he is usually not able to attach a sound to the letter and then connect it to the sounds of other letters. Reading phonetically requires multi dimensional thinking. Similarly, where a preschooler can count 1 to 10, she is less likely to understand the quantities that are symbolized by the numbers 1-10.
Dr. Johnson explains that preschoolers are not critical thinkers, however, the high neuroplasticity in their brain makes them experts at language acquisition. “We should be in awe” he explains “that babies go from no language to speaking. Adults only know how to learn a new language through their preexisting language. So how can a baby learn a language when they cannot translate it into gibberish?”
Dr. Patricia Kuhl, the co-director of the Institute for Learning and Brain Sciences at the University of Washington, researches how babies form language based on the language(s) spoken to them. Her team has discovered that 6-month-old babies can detect the sounds of every language in the world, whereas 12 month old babies are only able to detect the sounds from the language(s) that they hear. Through training, however, a 12 month old can create new neural synapses that allow the baby to learn new sounds. Kuhl explains that due to high neuroplasticity, young children can acquire new sounds, and ultimately new languages. Older children, on the other hand, are unable to acquire language in this manner.
Dr. Johnson explains that as children are learning to read phonetically, they are inversely losing the ability to acquire new languages. Preoperational thinkers are language geniuses, and as a child transitions to a multi-dimensional thinker, he is learning to read and losing their language expertise… forever. Johnson is emphatic that every young child, regardless of parental level of education and socioeconomic status, is a language genius. Understanding the far reaching potential of preschoolers, Johnson started CBA 15 months ago, providing a chance for children to go to, in his own words, “not Spanish class, but Spanish country.” Through immersion, children are able to detect sounds, comprehend sounds, and eventually speak these sounds. Yet, realizing that many families do not have access to high quality preschool education, the school has already offered more than $50,000 in scholarships this school year, in efforts to reach the North Charleston community.
Rosa Maria Cabrera, the Kindergarten teacher at CBA originally from Venezuela, adds “imagine how the trajectory of a child’s life changes, when they walk into elementary school speaking and reading in 2 languages.”
Playing to the strength of a preschooler, Charleston Bilingual Academy is doing what they have set out to do, changing lives and inspiring future world changers.
Kuhl, P. (February 18, 2011.) “The Linguistic Genius of Babies,” video talk on TED.com, a TEDxRainier event.