My name is Cate and I’m an early-years language teacher, mother of three young children, and a multilingual ambassador. This means that I’ve acquired some specialist knowledge about how we learn languages as babies and toddlers, and I love to help families navigate their own language journeys.
My early interest in languages began in the unlikely setting of rural Worcestershire, England. During my childhood, conversations with people who spoke languages other than English were almost non-existent and I’m grateful for my parents’ encouragement, and to the teachers who made French and German enjoyable to learn, because as it was, I only discovered multilingualism as a concept whilst at university!
I studied English and Modern Languages at the University of Oxford, then spent a challenging, yet pivotal, year in Paris teaching English as a Foreign Language and working as assistant to the director of a language school – an invaluable experience as it turned out!
Back in the UK, I set out to become a teacher. I did my teacher training in Scotland at the University of Glasgow and afterwards I cut my teeth teaching English and French in a colourful variety of secondary schools.
When my first child was born, I was amazed by his ability to communicate non-verbally, and then intrigued by the way he gradually developed language skills. This inspired me to embark on a new learning journey, investigating language acquisition in babies and toddlers, and applying my new understanding to the Babel Babies multilingual approach.
This approach has become my personal little language revolution and challenged the way I think about teaching languages to my own children, as well as the families and educational settings I work with. As far as I know, there are no other early-years language education programmes that focus on the study of multiple languages and linguistics, as opposed to taking a monolingual approach, where you learn one language at a time.
As anyone who has learnt French will tell you, mastering the rolling of the Rs is no mean feat. I was keen to speak French to my first child when he was a baby because I thought it would help him to acquire this skill early on (and miss a few embarrassing hurdles I’d had to leap over, but that’s another story!) And this simple ambition got me thinking.
I was a new mum, and I didn’t really understand how babies learn to speak; I’d been teaching languages for 10 years but couldn’t begin to form a lesson plan for a small baby. And, fundamentally, I had a lot of questions but I couldn’t find any answers! I was relying a lot on my instincts as a mother and teacher, and sought a bit of certainty about how this applied to my baby.
Luckily for me, my friend Ruth had a baby around the same time and also taught languages. We talked about whether we would speak our second, third, or even more languages with our boys, and agreed that the most important thing for us was to pass on our love of languages, not to make them feel pressured to speak any specific one.
We started collecting children’s songs and stories in languages that we knew, and reached out to friends and extended family across the world to contribute further. Before long we had an eclectic repertoire of nursery rhymes and fables in multiple languages that formed the foundation of the Babel Babies approach.
I’ve spent the last 10 years talking to people who are really plugged into bilingual and multilingual research and it is a topic that I find infinitely fascinating. In fact, as I write this in September 2020, I am returning to the University of Oxford to study applied linguistics and second language acquisition. I have a hunch that singing languages is actually really good for our brains as well as our confidence in learning languages!
I’d like to deepen my knowledge so that I can continue this ‘little language revolution’ and figure out how to make languages a joyful part of day-to-day family life here in the UK, and around the world.