04 Oct 2017, Meredith Jones Russell
Jenny Birch from Wallasey has opened Habla on the site of the former Wendy House Nursery in Upton to provide fully bilingual early years provision for up to 31 children in the Wirral area.
Ms Birch, who studied Spanish at school and university, set up Habla with her mother, Lynne Cowell, who has worked in primary schools for over 25 years and will manage the nursery full time.
As owner of training and translation company Passport Language Solutions, Ms Birch said that providing private language tuition for businesses, schools and nurseries sparked her interest in education.
‘Half an hour a week is not enough to learn a language,’ she explained. ‘A fully bilingual environment provides so many benefits for cognitive development that it gave me the idea to open a Spanish-English nursery.’
Half of the nursery staff at Habla will have Spanish as a first language and half will be English native speakers. One Spanish and one English practitioner will work in each room, and will only use their first language when speaking to children.
Ms Birch said this is how children will pick up the two languages alongside one another, and avoid any confusion.
‘We work on the “one person, one language” system,’ she said. ‘The English staff will only speak English and the Spanish staff will only speak Spanish. It works like a set of drawers in the child’s head, so when they see a member of staff they associate one language with them, and they will open the drawer to that language in their mind. That way, they are dealing with the two languages separately, and they get a good balance of each language every day to help them to learn the two simultaneously.’
Ms Birch’s son, who was born earlier this year, will also attend the nursery. Ms Birch speaks exclusively Spanish to him at home while her husband speaks to him in English.
Ms Birch added that with foreign languages now compulsory at key stage 2, there is scope for language learning to continue beyond the nursery.
‘People do sometimes say that they don’t feel there is a pathway for the children to continue learning Spanish after nursery, but I think the potential for this is just going to increase as we go forward,’ she said.
‘Even if the children don’t continue with Spanish straight away at primary school, the seeds are sown and the language is there. It creates pathways in the brain to help with reading and problem solving.
‘Many top educationalists are convinced that children who speak more than one language develop educationally and socially much quicker than those who don’t.
‘I’m convinced it’s the way forward for nursery education in the UK and I’m so proud that Habla is a first for Wirral and Merseyside.’