Articles on learning and languages

Staff Corner – Jue Wu


Jue Wu – East Side Branch Manager

1. What is your favorite color? Blue.

2. How would you describe yourself in three words? Kind, responsible, hard-working.

3. What is your favorite movie/tv show/song/book? I like to watch high fantasy adventure films and read novels. “The Dream of the Red Chamber” is a Chinese novel I read most frequently.

4. What is the best part of your day? After a whole day working, when I get the chance to see my kids and listen to them talking about everything happened.

5. What is your favorite drink from Starbucks? Light Vanilla Latte.

6. What is your favorite Chinese food restaurant in NYC? Szechuan Gourmet at west 39th street, near Bryant Park.

7. What has been your most memorable/favorite moment at Planet Han so far? The first day East Side Branch opened; since then we’ve made many things happened and will continue to create miracles.

Staff Corner – Leanna Lin


Leanna Lin – Training Manager

1. What is your favorite color? Sky blue

2. How would you describe yourself in three words? Patient, positive and caring.

4. What is your favorite movie/tv show/song/book? a Chinese drama called The Odyssey.

5. What is the best part of your day? Mealtime!

6. What is your favorite drink from Starbucks? Hazelnut latte

7. What is your favorite Chinese food restaurant in NYC? The Golden Palace

8. What has been your most memorable/favorite moment at Planet Han so far?
Whenever a student comes to me and tell me a word or sentence I just taught him or her earlier.

Benefits of Learning Language While Young

Children Learn A Second Language Naturally

Exposing your child to a second language while young allows him or her to optimize his or her learning potential, helping to shape the brain at its most flexible stage. Young children are uniquely suited to learning a second language. Learning a second language at a young age is cognitively as easy as learning a first language.

In taking advantage of this window of opportunity, young learners enjoy a wide range of benefits:

Linguistic Benefits

Young language learners can acquire native-like fluency as easily as they learned to walk, in contrast to an adult language learner. Where adult learners have to work through an established first-language system, studying explicit grammar rules and practicing rote drills, the young learner learns naturally, absorbing the sounds, structures, intonation patterns and rules of a second language intuitively, as they did their mother tongue. The young brain is inherently flexible, uniquely hard-wired to acquire language naturally.

Older learners lose the ability to hear and reproduce new sounds by age 8-12, according to experts, resulting in a permanent foreign-sounding accent in any language. Younger learners benefit from flexible ear and speech muscles that can still hear the critical differences between the sounds of a second language, as well as reproduce them with native-like quality.

Cognitive Benefits

While some parents worry that starting their toddler on a second language will interfere with developing English skills, the opposite is actually true. Children can differentiate between two languages within the first weeks of life. “Learning another language actually enhances a child’s overall verbal development,” says Roberta Michnick Golinkoff Ph.D., author of How Babies Talk.

The research goes on to show a number of additional cognitive benefits to learning a second language at an early age. Children who study foreign language show higher cognitive performance in overall basic skills in elementary school. According to the College Entrance Examination Board, they go on to score higher on SATs. Children who learn a foreign language at a young age also exhibit better problem-solving skills, enhanced spatial relations, and heightened creativity. Learning a second language early on encourages flexible thinking and communication skills, helping children consider issues from more than one perspective.

Additionally, research shows that multilinguals have enhanced memory, planning, and multi-tasking skills. When learning multiple languages young, the brain is trained to attend to salient information and to disregard non-pertinent information, a skill that later supports better focus, memory, planning and multitasking abilities. Research shows that multilinguals use more of their brains than monolinguals and outperform monolinguals on creativity tests.

Supplemental Material Recommendations

DVDs for learning Mandarin:

(1) Little Pim

(2) Better Chinese:

(3) Little Dumplings Disney Movie: The Secret of the Magic Gourd 2007 (with Mandarin, Cantonese, English Language option on the same DVD)

Ipad Apps:

(1)  Write Chinese with correct stroke order:  World Tracer Learn Chinese Nanaimo Studio @2011 (age 5+)

(2) Study Pinyin Blighty Studio @2011 China publishing house group (age 6+)

(3) My First Chinese Hongen and Technology Co. Ltd. (once they know who to touch screen)

(4) KTdict+C-E (English dictionary with flashcard trainers) by Klaus Thui (age 5+)

(5) lovechinese-xiao-bao-bao-xue

(6) guang-zhou-hong-bo-culture: jing-dian-you-sheng-tong-hua

(7) For iPad apps, download the ones created by Donut Chinese School.  They have a number of apps in different themes my kids love them too.

Learn Chinese (mandarin) MindSnacks

Staff Corner – Irene Coeny

Irene Coeny – Director

1. What is your favorite color? The exact shade of the orange and green we use for Planet Han’s space; they are welcoming and bright!

2. Where do you get all your great ideas for crafts and activities? Most of them come in when I am not aware of them; I,e, walking on the way to work, watching my kids play, visiting toy stores and when I am in a shower!

3. How would you describe yourself in three words? Innovative, diligent, entrepreneurial

4. What is your favorite movie/tv show/song/book? I like watching those Korean and TVB Chinese dramas and I read a lot of biographies.

5. What is the best part of your day? When I interact with my students and parents.

6. What is your favorite drink from Starbucks? Green Tea Latte without syrup!

7. What is your favorite Chinese food restaurant in NYC? For casual quick and fast noodles, congee kind of food: Big Wing Wang on 102 Mott Street. For fancy dinner, banquet, dim sum: Ping’s on 22 Mott Street. I take my daughters to Chinatown every other week.

8. What has been your most memorable/favorite moment at Planet Han so far? The day when we have reached 100 students. Today, we have 258!

Harvard Study: Kids Learn English and Chinese the Same Way

The idea that children should learn Chinese has firmly taken hold in the United States. There are nearly 50,000 students now studying Mandarin in elementary and secondary schools in the US, according to published figures. How hard is it, you ask, for kids to learn Chinese? Recent research has found that toddlers may learn Chinese, or any other second language, by utilizing the same building blocks—and developmental process—that babies use when first learning to speak. However, toddlers enjoy a much faster acquisition rate for new languages. They’re much quicker than babies, and, in many ways, more adept than big folks, too!

Children follow the same developmental path to learn Chinese and to learn English

Seeking to discover how children naturally acquire a second language, Harvard developmental psychologist Jesse Snedeker recently studied a group of preschool-aged children who were adopted from China. These children, who learn Chinese in their native country, often face an abrupt transition to an all-English environment. Snedeker found that, within 3 to 18 months after their arrival in the US, the adopted children had followed the same language-learning patterns we associate with infants.

Around their first birthday, most children start speaking in single-word utterances. This timeline holds true for children all over the world: it doesn’t matter if they first learn Chinese or English or Swahili. Then, after several more months, they begin to combine multiple words into phrases, gradually expressing more complex ideas, with greater consistency. For example, an 18-month-old child raised in an English-language household might ask, “Cookie eat?,” while a 2-year-old raised to learn Chinese would greet the now-opened cookie jar with a grateful “Xie xie!” (Thank you!) Initial vocabularies are predominately nouns, and, at first, children keep their utterances short and direct.

Toddlers are quick to adopt a second language

Snedeker found that preschoolers and infants follow the same steps when acquiring language, but at a disproportionate rate. On average, the adopted preschoolers learned as many words during their first three months in the US as an infant would learn between 12-24 months of age. In other words, the preschoolers were at least four times faster overall. This suggests that many of these young children will eventually catch up with their English-speaking peers, and become fluent speakers of their new language.

Though Snedeker’s study pertains to children who learn English as a second language, rather than English-speaking children who learn Chinese, the implications extend across all languages. “Are the early stages reflections of cognitive immaturity, or do they represent necessary steps in decoding the target language?” asks Snedeker, in a recent issue of Psychological Science. “Our results strongly suggest that these features of early language production are due to the nature of the learning problem rather than the limitations of infant learners.” Moreover, the study affirms the incredible flexibility and resilience of young children’s linguistic abilities.

Programs for kids to learn Chinese

The adopted children in Snedeker’s study primarily attained their language skills through direct contact with peers, in a full-immersion environment. Most second language learners—including the thousands of American children who learn Chinese—also enjoy the benefit of bilingual teachers and language programs.

Some students attend language-immersion schools, like the Chinese American International School in San Francisco, which runs from preschool to eighth grade. “In the early days, probably up until 10 years ago—we were considered experimental, kind of ‘out there,'” said the school’s finance director, Betty Shon, in a recent interview with the Los Angeles Times. “I’d get questions like, ‘What kind of parents want their kids to learn Chinese?'”

“Now,” she says, with satisfaction, “there’s just no question.” The value of learning Chinese has become self-evident, and enrollment in top language programs is highly coveted. In fact, Shon reports that families have actually relocated their entire household to the Bay Area—”just so their kids can go to the school.” Who are these ambitious language-learners? Less than half of the student body comes from families with Chinese ancestry, and only a few are native speakers.

Many advantages for kids who learn Chinese

Indeed, the desire to learn Chinese has spread far and wide, moving beyond cultural boundaries. “It really is almost unprecedented,” agrees Marty Abbott, director of education at the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages. “I think we would have to characterize what’s happening with the expansion of Chinese programs right now as an explosion,” he added, in a conversation with the Los Angeles Times.

China plays an increasingly important role in our interconnected world, and its growing global influence can be seen across the political, cultural and economic spectrum. Savvy parents recognize that students who learn Chinese today may discover new and exciting ways to succeed tomorrow. Beyond the value of someday doing business in China, there await tremendous opportunities in world travel, the possibility of forming international friendships, and a chance for young students to broaden their horizons.

“Certainly, having an understanding of Chinese language and culture is an advantage,” concludes Marty Abbott. Parents of children who learn Chinese will undoubtedly agree.

Second Language is Good Childhood Mind Medicine

Teaching young children how to speak a second language is good for their minds, report two Cornell linguistic researchers.

Learning a second language does not cause language confusion, language delay or cognitive deficit, which have been concerns in the past. In fact, according to studies at the Cornell Language Acquisition Lab (CLAL), children who learn a second language can maintain attention despite outside stimuli better than children who know only one language.

That’s important, say Barbara Lust, a developmental psychology and linguistics expert, professor of human development and director of CLAL, and her collaborator, Sujin Yang, former postdoctoral research associate at the lab, because that ability is “responsible for selective and conscious cognitive processes to achieve goals in the face of distraction and plays a key role in academic readiness and success in school settings.”

In other words, “Cognitive advantages follow from becoming bilingual,” Lust says. “These cognitive advantages can contribute to a child’s future academic success.”

The most effective way to learn a second language, they say, is to put the young child in situations where the second language surrounds them. “We find that children learning a second language in an immersion setting show an overall success rate of grammatical knowledge similar to English monolinguals,” says Yang, now a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Toronto at Scarborough and at York University in Toronto.

And the earlier that a child learns a second language, they say, the more likely the child will more quickly attain nativelike language proficiency.

Lust has been exploring language acquisition in young children for more than 30 years, across more than 20 different languages and cultures, studying which aspects of language acquisition are biologically endowed and which are learned, when and how language acquisition begins and how multiple language acquisition affects cognitive development in children.

“One of the greatest feats of human development is learning language,” says Lust. It’s remarkable, she says, “how well equipped children are, beginning at birth, to accomplish the complex task of learning language.”

For five years, Lust has been exploring the effects of bilingualism in young children with Yang, who led a series of studies with children of 3 to 6 years of age and comparison adults. The two have co-authored several papers.

“This collection of multilingualism projects, along with many research results from other labs across the world, affirms that children can learn more than one language, and they will even do so naturally if surrounded by the languages. The mystery of first-language acquisition is intensified when we realize that a child can and does naturally acquire more than one language at once,” says Lust, a founding member of the National Science Foundation-funded Virtual Center for the study of Language Acquisition (VCLA), which integrates research findings from such diverse fields as linguistics, developmental and experimental psychology, and neuroscience from around the country and the world.

In the CLAL, in conjunction with the VCLA and with Yang, Lust and her colleagues are also looking at longitudinal case studies of several young children acquiring English for the first time at 3 years of age through immersion in local nursery schools.

This article is adapted from the Cornell College of Human Ecology Web site.

Staff Corner – Jue Wu

Jue Wu – East Side Branch Manager 1. What is your favorite color? Blue. 2. How would you describe yourself in three …

Staff Corner – Leanna Lin

Leanna Lin – Training Manager 1. What is your favorite color? Sky blue 2. How would you describe yourself in three words? …

Benefits of Learning Language While Young

Children Learn A Second Language Naturally Exposing your child to a second language while young allows him or her to optimize …