Raising kids with diverse cultural experiences is really important to me, so when my daughter first told me she wanted to visit her cousins in Italy, I thought it would be a great way for her to expand her horizons.
She banded together with my 5-year-old son, and the three of us spent days looking at pictures of Florence and Rome, and then my daughter told me she wanted to speak the language.
They don't start learning a second language until middle school, so she had no experience, but really wanted to do it. I looked into Italian tutors in our area, but they were way too expensive, especially once her little brother decided he wanted to learn just like his big sister.
I looked for Italian classes online, but most of them seemed way too advanced for kids. One day when I was picking up my son from kindergarten, he told me he knew the numbers 1 through 10 in Spanish. He'd learned them from something called Muzzy; it's a language-learning program for kids developed by the BBC with a big green monster as its mascot.
I went online to see if the set would be appropriate for my daughter, Erika. I wasn't totally convinced that a cartoon video with green monsters and lions would help her learn a language, especially since she's a little bit older. It's one thing to memorise some numbers, and another to learn how to string together a sentence in a foreign tongue; I used to watch Dora the Explorer with the kids, and I only picked up a couple of words in Spanish. So I didn't have high hopes.
I did some research and found out that Muzzy's language learning cartoons come in a DVD set you can buy, or they have a website subscription that includes interactive bonus materials like movies, games, songs, and worksheets. The online subscription also includes an online recording studio that lets your child practice pronunciation by hearing themselves aloud.
The subscription started at just $5 a month so I figured there was nothing to lose and signed Erika up. I watched some of the videos first; the voices were cute and I liked how they only spoke in Italian. Muzzy is written like a story, so they're watching something fun instead of just repeating phrases.
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I ordered the monthly subscription as long as Erika promised me she'd watch two videos a week. I found her watching them in her room without having to be told, repeating the words back to the characters. I still didn't think she'd learn from a cartoon, but she was having so much fun, she and her brother started watching them together and quoting the different characters.
A month later, I asked them to set the table for dinner and noticed they were naming different fruits from our kitchen bowl in Italian, and asking each other questions.
I booked a trip to visit our family in Florence over the kids' school break, and I picked up an Italian phrase book for the journey. I was surprised that Erika not only already knew many of the words and phrases already (including her numbers), but she had a really fantastic accent since she'd learned it from Italian speakers. Because Muzzy sets up a cast of characters that interact in different scenes, she learned everything in context; she knew "Andiamo" meant "Let's go!" because she watched the characters say it every time they sped away on a bike.
She absorbed a lot of vocabulary without having to try to memorise lists of words like they do in class. Take "peach" for example every time they showed one on screen, they called it a "Pesca," so she just remembered. She associated words with the things she was saying, learning a second language similarly to how she learned her first.
We had an amazing time in Italy, and Erika feels so confident she was able to learn something new and apply it by speaking to her cousins on the trip. If you're trying to help your kids learn a language, I recommend Muzzy. The program really worked for our family, and I'm so proud to watch my child learn to actually speak a new language.
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