Developmental psychologists say people must be exposed to (hear and speak) all the sounds of a language in order to be able to speak it without a discernible accent later in life. People who learn a second language as an adult miss out on the important early sounds so they always speak with an accent, it is said. I don't know if I completely 'buy' that or not. But, I still want Baby Field Notes to grow up with some foreign language familiarity so she's confident in learning new languages.
At the FN's house we speak English and ... newfie. Which is to say, barks and groans and yowls and yelps are regularly heard and we're pretty good at communicating back. I really don't want newfie to be her second language. If all goes well, and we get to stay living here in this awesome town, Baby Field Notes will grow up being exposed to lots of Spanish — mainly in elementary school where the school she'd attend has a funky dual language immersion program. Mr. FN and I both know a smattering of Spanish from having taken it in high school and college so that will help us learn with her, theoretically at least. Mr. FN also speaks some German and although I can no longer speak it very well, I can still read French and plan to improve my speaking and reading skills over the coming years. Mr. Field Notes also does reasonably well with Japanese and me with Arabic.
One of the first ways Baby FN will be introduced to foreign language is through music. She's already started listening to Outlandish, a hip hop group from Denmark that performs in English, Spanish and Arabic. I've also got a good collection of French pop music: Mister Gang, Isabelle Boulay, and Teri Moise.
We've got loads of kids books too, mostly in French for later and for me now. Some are from the series Le Petit Ours Brun (The Little Brown Bear), another is Les Oeufs Verts au Jambon (Green Eggs and Ham) and of course, Antoine de St. Exupery's Le Petit Prince. We've got that on audio too — an unabridged version. Dessine-moi un mouton! I've already been having fun with that.
We'll have no lack of language resources. We just need to find some native speakers and travel a lot along the way.
Our supply of Japanese immersion material is pretty limited, but what we do have is awesome — some flash cards, dictionaries of kanji, a neat iPhone app, and a conversational language learning program by Pimsleur. I found it was very helpful for learning some Arabic. I also commissioned a special quilt with letters from the Japanese hirigana alphabet from a Japanese quilt maker I randomly found on etsy. When I saw the alphabet quilts she was making, I knew I had to have one for Baby Field Notes to use as a play mat. Here's what we came up with:
Hirgana is used for Japanese words for which there is no kanji. EmiShimosato is the place to go to get your own quilt. She has excellent craftsmanship, is very friendly and also makes non-Japanese quilts. Perhaps eventually I'll have her make us a katakana quilt too. I am still kicking myself a bit for not buying the magnetic alphabet set I saw in a dollar store in Japan. I should have. Every kid needs magnetic letters for the fridge and Japanese ones would certainly be unique. I figure she'll have this in case she wants to learn Japanese.
I think people not exposed as a child to a foreign language can learn, albeit with difficulty, to pronounce unusual sounds from a foreign language that are not present in their native tongue. But it takes practice, a good ear and a keen sense of muscle coordination between the mouth and tongue. It's much easier to just be exposed early and regularly to the sounds so they don't 'fall out' of the lexicon in the first place.