Grace | Speech Therapy Expert & Mom of 1
Native: English; Fluent: Mandarin
Raising: Bilingual daughter (English & Mandarin)
What age is appropriate to start learning a second or third language? We were casually chatting with friend, speech therapy expert, and mom - Grace (@speechtherapymom) - and a 5-minute conversation evolved into a much longer discussion about her bilingual family, language learning approach, how she uses Habbi Habbi and how she would advise different age groups and family types to use it (e.g. non-native, heritage, etc).
We left the conversation with new ideas on ways to use our own product and hope you find them helpful too!
What age did you start introducing a second language (and when Habbi Habbi)?
We have always tried to be a bilingual house, starting from when my daughter (Z) was born. For Habbi Habbi, we first got our Starter Set before she was even 1 year old. At that point, I used it more for me! I would use it as reference to remind myself how to say certain words. And for her, she was just learning how to “pincer grasp,” so she would practice holding the Wand. The books are so sturdy and well-made, so they almost served as her “play objects,” and she loved piling them together.
Now that she is 1.5 years old, we leave them on the lowest level of our shelves, so they are accessible, and she can grab them anytime by herself. I usually let her lead and see where she looks and what she wants to tap. I also help her point, since she’s still young and learning how to grasp the Wand. We focus on repetition and hearing words. At this age, children pick up words by being exposed to isolated words continuously and consistently. That’s why I like that Habbi Habbi has a dedicated category of Word books - so I can focus on repetition and isolated vocabulary.
Would your language learning approach be different for different ages?
Between 2-5, I might try to build in some basic habits - even if it’s 5 minutes each time. For example, on the ride to daycare or preschool, I would bring it in the car and make that “Habbi Habbi play time.” By this age, children have pincer grasp and can hold the Wand. There are also other opportunities and occasions throughout the day - like mealtime, bedtime reading, etc. But car rides are definitely a great option - and I would try to build in consistency. Once they are above 5, I see myself establishing a routine, with perhaps slightly longer periods of time - like 15-minute periods.
Is 5 minutes is enough to promote language development?
Language learning is all day long - especially for families that have the ability to give their kids exposure to that language through other means (e.g. immersion schools, nannies, relatives, other programming). But if a family is non-native and has absolutely no background, I still think 5 minutes a day - small, realistic, consistent goals - is good. I would suggest they pair it with consistent daily occasions, like bedtime, mealtime, or bathtime, so there are multiple “5-minutes a day.” They can also turn it into a “Reward” system to reinforce the positive association … For example, if you finish your meal, you get to pick out a snack and a Habbi Habbi book and play!
What other tips would you have for non-native families?
I think the principles of play are very similar - but the biggest difference is that if a native family can have more independent play, a non-native family might have to be a little bit more intentional with their exposure. For example …
Instead of keeping a library of books that kids can play with all the time, any time - there may be occasions when Habbi Habbi / non English books are the “go-to” set of books that you let your kids choose from. Otherwise, it’s too easy to default to English and not have space for the other language.
Also, parents may try to “learn with” the kids, to show that it’s important and give space to the language. In native families, they have the benefit of the language being used naturally through a family member. If there is no such speaker in a non-native family, they would create that space through one (or both) parents learning the language together.
- Also, it might be easier for non-native families to start with more relatable topics - for example your In My Home Book - which has everyday language and vocabulary that you might use. From there, it would be fun to graduate to basic phrases like Book of Chores - where the sentences like “Every day, I make my bed” are so, so relevant to everyday life!
Love your emphasis on giving ‘space’ to the target language, even if the family is not native.
Yes! The biggest way to show respect and value is to be curious. And it doesn’t have to be a huge investment of time - it is just about openness and asking questions. In the Habbi Habbi books, there are so many subtle cultural components because it’s so inclusive.
For example, Foodie Friends has sushi, bubble tea, elote, birria. It may seem small, but one vocabulary word can spark curiosity and questions like - What does this food taste like? When do you eat this food? What is the difference between elote and normal corn? What are the ‘bubbles’ in bubble tea? So the books are just the start of an ongoing conversation about culture and stories - which is what language is all about!
What other tips do you have for Habbi Habbi families on ways to use and leverage it?
I would definitely emphasize that they’re *special* so that when we read together, it’s a reward and reinforces positive associations with the target language. This is also just helped because the Habbi Habbi books are just naturally fun, colorful, and attractive.
I also try to turn our Habbi Habbi time into a game sometimes. For example, I recently discovered the pause function. So sometimes we pause to hear the minority language only - and then for older kids, I can imagine saying “translate this” and seeing who can translate the word / phrase faster - after hearing the Chinese, or vice versa.
You can also use the book to make associations with real life. For example, if they see something in the book that they interact with a lot (e.g. Animals, Plants & Places - and their stuffed animals), it’s a great opportunity to then refer to that daily-life object in the second language.
There’s also reading side by side. Even if the child is playing with one book, I would encourage parents to pick out another book and read alongside the child. It makes you, as a parent, discover new things about the books and messages. It also helps model behavior and importance to the child. And it creates an opportunity for you (or your child) to engage together by asking questions to each other - or - just for you to just observe their behavior!
- Finally, I would encourage parents to bring Habbi Habbi to places - and not just leave it at home. If you’re going out to the car, throw it in your bag and bring it out for the car ride!
Basically, I would encourage families to find their own rhythm and habits for usage - even if they’re small bits of time. Just make them small bits of consistent and delightful time. The only thing I would try to avoid is turning it into a “task,” which parents do sometimes with language learning. It shouldn’t be burdensome - it should be fun, to nurture their interest in the target language. Try competition, intimacy, rewards. That type of incentive and mindset is really important, I think for the long term.