Sarah Montgomery is the founder of the Bonjour Babies French Language Learning Program, designed for babies from six months to children aged 12 years. As a first-time parent, Sarah set out to learn French with her daughter but quickly discovered there were no suitable programs nearby, and so she created her own! Bonjour Babies classes are now located all over Sydney. With a background as a psychologist working with families, Sarah is well aware of the cognitive, developmental and social benefits that exposing your child to a second language in their early formative years provides. Learning a language alongside your child also creates an invaluable bonding experience that makes her classes even more rewarding and enjoyable.
Tell us a little about yourself.
I currently reside in Balmain with my husband and two children aged five and eight years. The Inner West has been my home for well over a decade, and I just love raising my family here.
My professional background is anchored in psychology, with a leaning towards early development. In addition to managing Bonjour Babies, I also work in a private practice in the Inner West. I particularly enjoy working with families, assisting in making a positive impact on their overall functioning, supporting anxiety and depression, building resilience and improving interpersonal relationships. I feel that Bonjour Babies complements my clinical work nicely and together they provide enough flexibility for me to enjoy a varied and manageable work-life balance.
What motivated you to set up Bonjour Babies?
Becoming a first-time parent in 2011 motivated me to research all things related to early years development. I was particularly impressed by the cognitive, developmental and social gains purported to be gained from early exposure to a second language. Naturally I began seeking out suitable immersion language programs, but no such services existed in Sydney at the time.
In reality, Bonjour Babies, was an accidental business. It started as a private class for my daughter and me to learn French together. We loved it so much that we invited friends to join, and before I knew it word had spread and formal classes were developed, open to all. It made sense to share what I had started with other like-minded parents.
Now, seven years later, and I have two children who are quite proficient in French, including myself, all from attending just one class per week!
After years of hard work Bonjour Babies has spread beyond the Inner West, with community classes located all over Sydney. We have also partnered with many childcare centres and preschools offering young children in care the benefits of early exposure to a second language too. More recently our French program has made its mark in private and public primary schools in the Inner West, as part of the school curriculum for Kindergarten to Year 6 students. We are an approved Department of Education provider.
Our program now caters for babies from six months through to 12 year old children. It has literally grown alongside my children.
How does the program work?
Bonjour Babies is designed for parents to learn French along with their child, or to reinforce their child’s journey to bilingualism if they are already proficient in French. Preschoolers and beyond learn independently from their parents in a peer group setting.
Our programs are taught by native French speakers and are based on the latest research relevant to language acquisition, incorporating multiple senses to expedite learning and support retention. Our weekly classes follow a unique theme that extends upon those learnt previously, with foundational language skills being revised each week to instil a sense of mastery. Additionally, new key words are acquired each week to build up the repertoire of base language skills. Songs, games, stories, craft and interactive activities are used to make learning both fun and effective. Our teachers get down on the children’s level and become their partner in their learning experience. We respect their space and individual learning pace, and always make sure our primary goal is for the children to learn through having fun. We love that our program offers parents and children the chance to learn a new skill together, simultaneously. It provides a wonderful bonding experience. It really is French for fun for you and your little one!
What are the benefits of the program?
Research points to numerous cognitive and developmental benefits from early exposure to a second language. The myth that multiple languages confuse the growing brain has long been dispelled. Science now supports that bilingual children have more grey matter in their brain attributing to improved working memory, problem solving skills and analytical capabilities. Somewhat surprisingly they also display a wider repertoire of language in their mother tongue as compared with monolingual peers. Of particular importance to me are the emotional benefits. Studies have shown that children who have been exposed to a second language fare better socially when compared to their monolingual peers due to the confidence they acquire in the learning processes and the risk taking involved in attempting to converse in a new language. As a psychologist working with many children suffering from anxiety, this is such an important secondary gain and resilience-building factor that I think most children would benefit from. I’d like parents to know that by giving their child the opportunity to master a second language they are not only giving their children a bilingual head start, but a head start in so many other areas that provides lifelong benefits.
What can families expect from the classes?
Parents can join our class from when their baby is around six months of age for a 45-minute lesson. They are active participants in our classes until the preschool program (4 years+) commences. A circle format is adopted with the teacher up front and centre. Foundational language skills, including greetings, introductions, feelings discussion and the weather, are revised most weeks to create a mastery of conversational skills. New content is also delivered each week. Children take home ‘key words’ to add to their bank of French words that evolves over time. We also run school-aged programs where children complete written content and craft activities to reinforce the theme of the day.
As a mother yourself, do you have any advice for new parents?
As adults, I think we have a lot to learn from observing children. Children have an innate ability to stay in the present moment, fully absorbing their experience and surroundings. It provides a reminder to us adults to slow down and be mindful ourselves. Having passed through the more physically demanding early years of my children’s life, I now realise how hazy it all seems. It’s important to pause during even the busiest moments, to actually have a chance of taking it all in. Putting your work away, ignoring the chores, hiding your phone, even for only ten minutes, to create a small window of time to be fully present with your child is priceless. These are the moments you remember.
Favourite places or things to do in the Inner West?
I love the outdoors, so I am often found running around the ‘Bay’ or taking my children down to Iloura Reserve in Balmain East to climb amongst the Morton Bay figs and create forts or get creative and draw on paperbark scraps. Being a strong appreciator of coffee, I love to frequent the nearby cafes and support our local businesses. Weekends in our family call for pub dinners, and the Inner West does this so well. Lastly, the ferries – is there any better way to get around town?