Today on Bristol Mum is an interview with Dominique Bowles, a Bristol mum and a co-director of Babel Babies.
Babel Babies offer multi-sensory and movement classes for babies and children which explore foreign languages through stories and songs. The aim is to inspire a passion for learning new languages in both children and grown-ups in a structured and fun way.
I hope you enjoy learning about Babel Babies!
Hi Dominique, tell me a bit about yourself.
I studied languages at university and subsequently worked in the translation industry. I love to travel and learn about new cultures, and especially love trying new foods! Most importantly, I am a mum to a super-energetic, cheeky toddler, who likes to keep me on my toes.
I grew up in Bristol, and have since lived in a variety of places including Exeter, Italy and London. I moved back from London in 2010 and have loved re-discovering the Bristol of my childhood.
Whilst I was on maternity leave and through a stroke of pure serendipity, friend introduced me to Cate and Ruth, my co-directors, and we instantly bonded over our passion for languages and our shared experiences of motherhood. Together we have developed Babel Babies and are keen to share our business and ethos behind it with as many people as possible.
Please tell me about your Babel Babies classes.
We run multi-sensory music and movement sessions for children from birth through to primary school, exploring foreign languages with songs and stories from around the world in a structured and fun environment.
We sing familiar songs such as ‘Row, Row, Row Your Boat’ and ‘The Wheels on the Bus’ as well as traditional songs in French, German, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Norwegian, Japanese and Arabic. We love introducing people to new songs from a variety of languages and we are always open to new suggestions!
Our aim is to ignite a passion for learning new languages in children and parents alike. Children are so receptive to learning new sounds and languages and we aim to show parents how easy it is to support their learning as part of the family routine. Accompanying parents and grandparents also come away feeling more confident in embracing new languages: it’s a wonderful experience you can share. It’s never too early or too late to start learning and loving new languages.
As one mum from our Cheltenham baby group says:
“It’s a more interesting class to do than usual baby classes because you are learning something as well as the babies. My husband said I was too excited about going to this class and it simply couldn’t live up to my expectations…but it did!! ‘Incy Wincy Spider’ in Arabic is my new party piece.”
And those parents who have very little experience of languages, or are even terrified about speaking foreign languages because they didn’t enjoy them at school, find their confidence improving over the term.
One lovely mummy said her baby’s bedtime routine now includes ‘Frère Jacques’ in French and ‘Twinkle Twinkle Little Star’ in Spanish, even though she didn’t feel she could speak either language two months ago. Another baby won’t go back to sleep unless her mummy sings her new favourite Portuguese song. Isn’t that amazing? And it’s not a very difficult thing to achieve.
One of our Bristol mums told us what she enjoys about coming to our multilingual music sessions with her young baby:
“My nine-month-old baby and I have been coming to Babel Babies since he was just five months old. Dominique instantly puts parents and children at ease, and her love of languages is infectious. Each session contains a number of classics in foreign languages, as well as musical instruments, dancing and a story.
I think that each child gets a lot out of each group because they will soak up all the different languages while having fun with the songs and music.
There’s absolutely no pressure to ‘learn’ the words of each song or pronounce everything correctly. It only takes two to three weeks to pick up the basics, and once you ‘get’ a song you won’t stop singing it! My baby always smiles and laughs when I sing ‘Twinkle Twinkle Little Star’ in Spanish!
I’d recommend Babel Babies to other parents no matter how young their babies are.”
When and where do you run your classes?
Our sessions are held at Rimando’s Soft Play Coffee Lounge on Gloucester Rd in Bishopston on a Friday morning. These sessions are based upon 5-week terms where parents and children can learn together progressively each week. It’s a great way to create stepping stones into a love of languages for your children.
Each term the session content changes slightly to keep things new and interesting, while a core set of songs stays consistent from one term to the next because repetition is an important way for children (and adults!) to feel confident about their learning.
We also run a monthly drop-in session at The Hungry Caterpillar Play Café in Bedminster on the first Tuesday of every month at 10.30am. We are in the process of looking for new venues in and around Bristol, so keep an eye on our website and Facebook page for more info. Here is a summary of our current sessions in Bristol:
Rimando’s – Gloucester Rd: Friday morning
Bambinos (toddlers to pre-school age) – 10am
Babies (newborns to walking age) – 10.45am
Hungry Caterpillar Play Café: 1st Tuesday of each month
Mixed age drop-in session – 10.30am
We also run sessions in Cheltenham, where Babel Babies first started, Gloucester and Stroud. We are always looking for new places to expand to as we want to spread the love of languages far and wide!
What activities does a typical class offer?
Here is a brief summary of the classes we hold in Bristol:
Suitable from birth – walking
Introducing you gradually to your favourite songs and stories in different languages, we incorporate multisensory experiences into a lovely musical half hour that will give you and your baby plenty to talk about when you get home. It’s a gentle, relaxed and fun way for grown-ups to start or get back into learning another language, while exposing little ones to foreign sounds at the time when they are most receptive.
Suitable from walking – early preschool
An energetic group focused around music and singing, with lots of movement and actions to keep lively toddlers engaged as they learn their favourite songs and stories in foreign languages. Besides offering a vibrant environment to stimulate curious little ones, the sessions are a great way for parents to see how songs, rhymes and basic vocabulary in another language can be integrated into the family routine. Siblings are welcome too.
We have an online shop where we sell a range of foreign language books such as the ones we read in class. We also have a CD with some of our favourite songs which is also available from our online shop so that parents can explore languages with their children at home or in the car, alongside the classes. (www.babelbabies.com/shop)
What or who inspired you to run these classes?
My little boy was the main inspiration behind starting these classes. I wanted him to grow up learning about other cultures and languages and to love them as much as I do. I wanted to find a way to share this passion with him. We went along to a variety of classes and enjoyed them all, but I couldn’t find anything like Babel Babies to take him to, so decided to take the plunge and embark on it myself.
I instantly clicked and bonded with my Co-Directors Cate and Ruth over our shared passion and I have not looked back. As the first to offer this type of multilingual approach to language learning for children in the area, Babel Babies is going from strength to strength. We work closely together and support each other and we are bursting with knowledge, enthusiasm and ideas. Look out Bristol, and ultimately the world, here we come!
What are your personal experiences of being a mum in Bristol?
I was born in Bristol and moved back from London to become a mum here. I love this city so much. There is so much to do with children in Bristol and I find it just the right size, big and diverse enough so that there is lots going on to keep us occupied, but I feel it still has a friendly and warm feel that can be lost in other big cities. I have found local mums to be so supportive of each other, and gained many lovely new friends through motherhood. It has been a breath of fresh air!
Are there any activities in Bristol that your children particularly enjoy?
We love the outdoor activities in Bristol and are lucky to have so many lovely parks and spaces to explore. Some of our favourites are St. Andrews park, Ashton Court and Blaise Castle. Leigh Woods is also a lovely place for a Gruffalo hunt.
In your opinion, what are the advantages/ disadvantages of raising children in Bristol?
I think Bristol is a great place to bring up children. There is so much variety on offer and it is in an ideal location, not too far for London, and in easy reach of the coast. I wish public transport was a little better though, as I think if you didn’t own a car it would be difficult to take advantage of all that Bristol has to offer parents and children.
How do you manage running your classes and being a mum?
Sometimes, I’m not even sure myself! I have a wonderful support system of family and friends, fabulous colleagues who are in exactly the same boat as me, and I am lucky enough not to need too much sleep. I am driven by the desire to build a career and future that benefits and works around my role as a mother and also by my aspiration to share something I am so passionate about with as many other parents and children as possible. I am also an avid list-maker!
Is there anything else you would like to add?
It is an exciting time for learning languages in Britain, as the new primary curriculum means that foreign languages will be compulsory from KS2 as of September 2014. Brits have a terrible reputation for learning other languages and we’d like to reverse that trend!
We think that by discovering fun ways to learn alongside our children, adults have a great opportunity to open up the world for their little ones as well as enjoying languages themselves. There are more bilingual people in the world than monolinguals, and learning a second language is proven to combat Alzheimer’s in adults as well as improve concentration and performance across all school subjects for children. Learning languages together is a win-win situation!
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If you would like to sign up for a Babel Babies class, please fill in a Babel Babies enrolment form.
*Disclosure: This was a sponsored post.