Speaking and reading a second language offers huge benefits, but if you remember high school Spanish class you know it can be tough. However, teaching children from a young age makes it easier and gives them an edge. Now, a new language learning app for kids is also giving them a leg up like never before.
Why a Second Language?
Most parents understand that speaking a foreign language offers their child access to a larger pool of job prospects as they enter the work force. However, the National Institutes of Health have also noted the numerous cognitive benefits that come with learning a new language, including improved memory, focus, problem-solving skills, and listening ability.
Perhaps most importantly, with an understanding of language comes the door to cultural awareness and appreciation. Young people can read short stories and plays, or understand music in a way they never could before. In time, they can adopt a diverse worldview that makes them more accepting of individuals they see in the media, combating the racial stereotypes that are so prevalent in day-to-day society.
When and Where to Start?
Neuroscience has shown that the best time to learn a second language is before the age of ten. At this age, children are like sponges and are well-equipped to pick up new sounds, letters, words, and songs, even on a subconscious level. Kids also have much more free time to devote to language learning and aren’t as discouraged by the prospect of making mistakes as adults might be.
One up and coming app company, Shoonya, is working hard to make language learning accessible and enjoyable for children. Before creating the app, founder Rashi Bahri Chitnis noticed the lack of diversity within the children’s space, particularly when wanting to teach her children her native Hindi language.
“While there are great apps and resources for children to learn English, there is no all-encompassing, quality content for other languages, especially Asian,” she tells Parentology. The former media executive had tried getting resources from India that didn’t work for children growing up in the US, so she created something that worked for her and her kids.
“I want my children to see themselves represented in the characters that they play with and for all children to have a digital universe where there is equal representation for language and cultures,” she says.
Chitnis found that she was not alone in her observations. Other bilingual parents she spoke to were frustrated with the lack of cultural diversity represented in the media, or felt their children lacked the same high-quality, educational language learning content for Asian languages.
Now with an extensive team of educators, designers, and engineers behind her, Chitnis hopes to make Shoonya an inclusive platform for both languages and cultural exposure.
Project-based Learning Approach
Dr. Anupama Sarna, a language specialist, and consultant for the Shoonya team, offered an approach to make language learning come alive for children.
“I like to incorporate project-based learning to do with culture, heritage, and art from different regions,” she tells Parentology. “I encourage children to try to collect artifacts, go look in their homes, or check out a museum and think about what influenced their art.” She says that this educational philosophy makes language acquisition more enjoyable for her students, and has guided Shoonya in using theme-based learning chapters on their own platform.
Shoonya Kids uses fun characters, animations, and chapter-style learning activities to make language acquisition fun and engaging. Designed to teach children their first 350-500 words, the app exposes kids under ten to new languages.
Lessons emphasize teaching children through absorption and repetition, allowing them to both listen and play as they complete chapters like letter tracing, puzzles, and dress-up. Young children receive a sensory learning experience as they trace letters, drag puzzle pieces, or pinch and pull dress-up accessories, all while absorbing language vocabulary.
While the app specializes in Hindi, it also offers eight other languages:
- Telugu (language spoken by Telugu people predominantly living in the Indian states of Andhra Pradesh, Telangana and Yanam district of Puducherry)
Plus, new learning content is added regularly.
Chitnis hopes that Shoonya will bring a passion for languages and cultures to children, helping them celebrate diversity and rewrite negative stereotypes in the media.