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Little Linguists Nursery School Ltd is the only French bilingual nursery in the London borough of Wandsworth and was founded by a local working mum, Daniella Goodman.
Like most parents, choosing a nursery for her son was ‘a big step’. Whilst working in a bilingual school she witnessed young children’s heightened ability to learn second and third languages and realised a bilingual nursery could become an excellent opportunity to empower the next generation.
She said: “I think learning another language is extremely important and the earlier you add in another language the more likely it is that the child will go on to be bilingual.”
Melhissa Messadi is a French 25-year-old bilingual nursery teacher at Little Linguists Nursery. While admitting that teaching young children a second language is challenging, she said it ‘just takes time’.
“It’s always interesting when children take part and you see that they haven’t just only learnt new words but they have enjoyed learning them.”
Having grown up in both Paris and London, bilingualism has always been a part of Ms Messadi’s life. She said: “It struck me that the best gift I could give children would be command of a language and knowledge of a culture that might make a difference to their future at an age when it is most natural to acquire.”
There are increasing numbers of children entering Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) settings for whom English is not the dominant language in the home. For growing numbers of settings, providing care and learning opportunities for children and families new to English, or at various stages of proficiency, is also a new experience.
Ms Messadi continued: “We also have lots of parents who only speak English and are happy that their child is learning a new language. They feel it is a great starting point for their child who will have some understanding of the language for starting primary school and it gives them a great insight into appreciating other cultures.”
In its latest Ofsted report published in 2016, inspectors praised the nursery’s commitment to supporting children’s language development, citing that the children are ‘inquisitive’ and ‘keen’ to learn. They also reported that all children develop good communication and language skills in both English and French, as they are encouraged by staff to use both languages in their play and activities.
Ms Messadi uses gestures, posters, flashcards and signs to provide a complete learning environment for children to progress in their bilingualism. “The children can be shy at speaking the second language at first but they absorb the understanding and know what is being said. It takes longer for the confidence in speaking if it's not also used within the home, but this comes in time,” she added.
The nursery gives children homework each month to practise their French, along with journals that contain extra activities. French workshops for parents, grandparents, nannies and children are also offered at the nursery and run by experienced professionals. These workshops use sensory materials, music, and imagination to create rich learning experiences.
Research shows there are multiple benefits of bilingualism which include; a better ability to concentrate, solve problems and focus; better mental flexibility and multi-tasking skills, and protection against cognitive decline.
“The children absorb and learn the language so quickly at this young age, especially when it’s spoken all day,” said Ms Messadi. “We believe the early years is the perfect age to introduce languages.”
Little Linguists Nursery School, close to Tooting and Streatham in South West London, provides full day care for children from three months to five years of age, all-year-round.