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Multilingual is Normal

babel babies Jul 09, 2020

Don't you love hearing about how people got hooked on languages? About the funny times when words went wrong, the little moments when it was pure joy to hear the words coming out of your mouth, and the incredible stories about languages saving the day. I certainly do! And to celebrate the fact that it's nearly 20 years since I became a languages teacher, nearly 10 since we launched Babel Babies, and to mark the beginning of a new chapter as I head off to Oxford University to research language acquisition in October, I am publishing a book! In a month!

And I'd love you to be in it.

Here are the details:

Title: Multilingual is Normal
Project launch day: 10th July
Publication day: 10th August
Submissions: 700-800 words max, in English.
Submission deadline: 25th July

So, grab your dictaphone, your laptop, your favourite tale of wordy wonder/woe, your aspirations for your kids...whatever you'd like to tell the world about learning languages. We are looking for 30-40 submissions, and can't wait...

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Ancora Imparo

babel babies Jun 18, 2020

I am still learning.

I quote this all the time (it’s attributed to Michaelangelo, who apparently wrote it on a sketch when he was 87 years old…) but am I really learning? I mean, sure, I’m about to start a Masters in Applied Linguistics at Oxford, but am I challenging my beliefs in the light of new evidence? What received knowledge do I have that, like large stones in the framework of a garden, I am leaving unturned?

The current debate around the Black Lives Matter movement has made me examine my approach to the #multilingualisnormal movement I’m trying to create through Babel Babies and The Language Revolution. In the last six months I’ve read papers about colonialism in linguistics, and engaged with the idea that European scholars are imposing narratives and structures on, for example, languages that were invented by missionaries to south-east Africa. Swiss missionaries conveniently grouped several tribes’ linguistic forms together and called...

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babel babies May 09, 2020

Babel Babies is reading, quizzing and singing for local hospitals because they are doing such amazing work for our community!

This Bank Holiday weekend we organised Babelathon: a fundraising event for two local hospital charities in Bristol and Gloucestershire.

The schedule of Facebook live events is as follows:

Friday 8th May, 1pm: Readathon!
Cate reads all the Babel Babies stories she can find on the shelves, collected over the last nine years. There are many, many stories, in lots of languages!

Saturday 9th May, 1pm: Family Quiz!
Danni dons her quizmaster hat and entertains your family with a quiz. There will be questions suitable for all the family to join in.

Sunday 10th May, 1pm: Singathon!
Jen sings songs in different languages (including English) for THREE hours, with lots of clapping songs for the NHS! It's fundraiSING!

All of these events were live-streamed on Facebook on and the videos are available to watch all week. Do come over and join in,...

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The Future of Communication

babel babies Dec 03, 2019

The future of communication is never certain, and we can’t just ignore the fact that phones and screen of all kinds are here to stay. Communication has always been constantly changing: change is the one constant! But now phones are not just a tool for communication; they are PART of the conversation and can become a blocker for really talking to each other. Have you noticed that? We think we are chatting but actually everyone is just looking at a screen, like in this series of eerie photos by Eric Pickersgill where he has taken the devices away.

There is much discussion about whether phones should be banned around babies and scary headlines that tell us we are damaging our babies by letting them even see screens before the age of three. The research is not conclusive, as this NY Times article explains. The technology is all too new to say for sure that screens are bad. Just think back to what phones looked like 20 years ago, when we first started texting, and 66 years ago,...

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A new chapter for language education.

babel babies Nov 02, 2019

From January 2020, we will be taking a little sabbatical from running weekly Babel Babies and Bambinos sessions in Bristol and Cheltenham. It has been a whirlwind few months, with our multilingual method gaining attention from education policy makers and researchers across the UK and abroad. It's a very exciting time for language education and we are right at the heart of the conversation. In order to make the biggest impact on the future of language education for all children, we need to pause our weekly sessions with you and focus our efforts on consolidating what we have learned through singing languages with your growing families over the last eight and a half wonderful years.

We have been thinking about how to get our positive message about learning languages together out to a wider audience, and how to extend Babel Babies up the ages into primary school as well as geographically, for some time. Our team is excited about working on this together over the early part of 2020. I...

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Best Children's Business!

babel babies May 25, 2019

This week Babel Babies won the prestigious Muddy Stilettos Award for Best Children's Business in Gloucestershire.

We are über the mond to say the least, and would like to thank all of you wonderful people for your support for our little language revolution.

Things have certainly come a long way since Cate and Ruth set up the first group in Cheltenham eight years ago! We now have parent-and-child music and language sessions running across Bristol in Long Ashton, Bedminster, Clifton, Easton, Horfield and Thornbury. In Cheltenham you can find Babel Babies in The Exmouth Arms on Mondays and Thursdays, John Lewis on Tuesdays, and the School House Café on Fridays. See the full timetable here. And we are bringing our unique multilingual approach to language education to some amazing nurseries and preschools too!

We love singing languages with you all and can't wait to see what the next eight years brings! Grazie! Shukran! Merci! Danke! Tusen tack!

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Why five-week terms?

babel babies Oct 11, 2013

We run Babel Babies baby, toddler and pre-school language sessions in five-week mini ‘terms’ for lots of reasons. When we first started out we used to change the songs every week. Imagine that! Now we repeat exactly the same songs for five weeks.

Experience tells us that five weeks is just the right amount of time for songs in foreign languages to filter into our long-term memory.

I think that the usual learning curve for a first-time Babel Babies goer is:

Week 1 – Whoa! I’ll never remember all those words!
Week 2 – Oh yes, I vaguely remember that from last week!
Week 3 – Ah ha, this is starting to make sense now!
Week 4 – Yay, I nearly got it right that time!
Week 5 – Woo hoo! I’m singing in eight languages!

Spaced repetition is a wonderful learning technique. We then take the songs you’ve just learned and put some of them in the next term as well, only changing three or four each term to ensure continuity and progression of...

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Why teach your children foreign languages?

I’ve just read an interesting article about the benefits of teaching foreign languages to our children. It was written by a lady who has moved her entire family to France in order to pursue their language goals!

Whilst we can’t all move to France and immerse ourselves in their language and culture for several years like this lucky family, we can take on board some of the writer’s ideas.

1) Learning languages is good for our brains*

(*note, I first wrote this blog in 2012 and the research is more nuanced now... visit this page to read more about the science!)

Research into bilingualism sometimes* shows that babies’ brains develop more flexibility when they speak two or even three languages from an early age. The left and right sides of the brain work better together and this aids maths, creative thinking and problem-solving as well as language acquisition. I can already see Dylan flipping through his mental multilingual picture book when we read familiar stories...

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