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Play Immersion: Toys and Multilingual Language Learning
by Catalina Sofia Dansberger Duque   |   September 29   |   0 Comments
Toys in essence must be used in order for them to meet their purpose. And what exactly is their purpose when families are looking to expand their children’s native, second, and possibly third language abilities? Play Immersion. The theory that people learn languages best when they are immersed in native social, cultural, and linguistic experiences of a language apply to play as well.

A 2012 study in the journal Plos One reported that people who learned language through an immersion setting displayed the full brain patterns of a native speaker. Immersion for children happens at a playground, a playgroup, the library, community center, or at schools where they can be surrounded with native speakers of the target language. In a common space, children who may not yet be able to verbally understand each other can find common ground through toys. It can include a range of toys that include multi-language options for further reinforcement. But the true secret in using toys for language development is in the play because both language learning and play are products of one major skill: problem solving.
Through group play children can be exposed to language in basic forms and listen to the name their peers and adults assign toys but also have the opportunity to engage in serious problem solving. Multi-language learning has much to do with figuring out a different way to see the world. In a 2007 Duke University interview with Therese Sullivan Caccavale, president of the National Network for Early Language Learning, she states, “language learning is much more a cognitive problem solving activity than a linguistic activity…foreign language learning increases critical thinking skills, creativity, and flexibility of mind in young children.”
In these social settings toys are used as props in extensive playgrounds of the mind where language and social rules are recreated, broken, rearranged, and mix-matched for children to better understand the world around them. In “Assessing and Scaffolding Make Believe Play,” by Deborah J. Leong and Elena Bodrova, toys are first accessed through their perceived purpose, then their manufactured purpose, and finally their imagined purpose. Given a space to freely play in their environment for long periods of time, with minor adult support to aid children who may not be used to role-playing, children begin to solve social and linguistic problems through imaginary play where roles, rules, and relationships are explored. 
In short toys are props that ignite curiosity and profound learning in any language.


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