Imagine a baby learning to speak Spanish or Chinese or Italian or French.
St. James Lutheran Church in Barrington becomes on Sept. 14 the home of a new language academy that teaches children as young as 6 months of age those languages.
Language classes that stress “fun and play” will be offered by the Small Talk Language Academy, said Esther Gonzalez, the founder and program director.
The Barrington location is one of six sites in Rhode Island, including two in Providence, and one each in Wakefield, Cranston and East Greenwich. The latter two locations will not begin to offer classes until November.
Children up to 12 will be taught any of the languages in 10-week sessions, Gonzalez said. Parents can attend the classes with their children up to 3 years old.
Gonzalez, the mother of a 20-month old son, is launching Small Talk because “I couldn’t find anyplace to send my son” for language training in Rhode Island or southern New England.
Gonzalez grew up in the Dominican Republic speaking Spanish, her native tongue, she said. Her husband, who owns Pane & Vino restaurant on Federal Hill in Providence, is Italian. He would like their son to speak Italian as well.
So, when they couldn’t find a place to enroll their son for language lessons, she did the next best thing: She decided to start her own academy.
“We use the Thibaut Technique,” Gonzalez said.
It is named for Francois Thibaut of the highly regarded Language Workshop for Children in New York City. In short, she said, the language workshop teaches languages to babies, toddlers and children through "educational play."
It combines original music, vocabulary-building songs, language immersion, visual aids, movement and games, she said.
“Classes look like simple playgroups,” said Gonzalez.
But while the children are playing, she said, they are becoming “conversational speakers.”
Quoting Thibaut, she said: “Children remember the words that make them happy.”
Small Talk’s teachers all are certified in the Thibaut Technique, she said. They are trained at the Language Workshop for Children in New York. Each one speaks the language fluently, Gonzalez said.
Classes run from 45 minutes to an hour depending on the age of each child. No class is larger than 10 students. Each 10-week session is $245.
Sample classes will be held at the two Providence locations on Sept. 10, she said. The sites are the Providence Public Library and the Jewish Community Center.