By Kristina Houck
Having lived and worked in Europe, Nina Nielsen of Del Mar knows the importance of studying languages and learning about different cultures. That’s why she began teaching her children multiple languages when they were still learning English.
“The best time to learn a language is at the age when they’re still forming skills in their native language,” said Nielsen, a full-time mother of four with a background in design. “As soon as they were trying to make any kind of communicative type of sounds, I started figuring out different ways to teach them.”
What started off as simple activities, led to classes at school and community organizations such as the Italian American Academy of San Diego.
Nielsen’s three sons — ages 7, 11, 15 — are now trilingual, speaking English, French and Italian. Her oldest speaks Japanese as well.
Her 3-year-old daughter Chiara is taking the Mommy & Me Italian Class at the Del Mar Library, a new class Nielsen and her friend, Dr. Sonia Brighenti of Carmel Valley, are teaching.
Brighenti, a native of Italy, leads the class.
Brighenti earned her bachelor’s degree from the Catholic University of Italy, where she specialized in foreign language acquisition and linguistics, studying the languages and literatures of English, German and French. In 2003, she earned a master’s in romance languages and literatures from Boston College and later accepted a scholarship at Harvard University, where she received her Ph.D. in romance languages and literatures, specializing in Italian contemporary female writing.
Throughout her career, Brighenti has taught English, German, French and Italian in Italian middle and high schools, as well as in American Colleges, including Boston College and Harvard University.
Held on the fourth Friday of every month at the Del Mar Library, the first Mommy & Me Italian Class took place in March.
Brighenti taught the children ages 3-5 how to say different body parts in Italian by using dolls Nielsen designed.
“The kids really have fun with this,” said Nielsen, who studied abroad in Italy while in college. After college, she studied in Switzerland and then returned to Italy to work for three years.
“What’s really fun for me is watching how quickly kids pick it up,” added Nielsen, who has a bachelor’s in humanities from Pepperdine University and a master’s in marketing design from the Art Center College of Design. She also taught computer design courses at Pepperdine University. “It’s so amazing how open the mind is to learning languages at that age. It’s very encouraging and rewarding to see.”
The Mommy & Me Italian Class takes place on the fourth Friday of every month at the Del Mar Library, 1309 Camino Del Mar. The class begins at 1:30 p.m. on April 25. Future classes start at 10:30 a.m. Classes are free.
“Knowledge should be accessible to everybody,” Brighenti said. “It’s important for kids to be exposed to different languages.”
Brighenti and Nielsen also offer their class at 10:30 a.m. every Saturday at the North University Community Branch Library, located at 8820 Judicial Drive in San Diego.
For more information about the Del Mar Library’s events and classes, visit https://sdcl.org/locations_DM.html.