Aaron J. Cox
“… Yes, that’s French they’re speaking and though these children aren’t French, they’re American. And they’ve acquired their amazing new language skills from Muzzy.” (wa27, 2009). When I was young and watching television I would see these commercials on PBS, Nickelodeon, Cartoon Network, etc. and be mesmerized. I, too, could learn a second language by doing what I already enjoy doing. I would plead to my mother “Mom, I need Muzzy, need it!” and I was always met with a strong “No.” Perhaps my mother was too concerned with my strong speech impediment that did not allow me to clearly speak in my native tongue, English, let alone another language. My mother’s stern “no” remained and I would go the rest of my young childhood years, and into my late adolescences without acquiring a second language. As I got older I still had the drive to learn another language, and as I am now bilingual (and working on a third), I still wonder how Muzzy’s language learning program would have paid off. Although I believe whole-heartedly that the intensions of Muzzy are to further develop the brain of a child. I am concerned that this method alone is not what the claims make it out to be and that language development is much more difficult than “immersion” through the television.
Muzzy, aside from the name of the main character, is a language-learning program, created by the BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation) aimed at children who are between the ages 1-12. The purpose of this award-winning program was to teach children a new language through the immersion technique with a total of 4 videos, 2 audiocassettes, an activity book, Parent’s Guide, and an Answer book all for the price of 28.08 per month for 6 months. Upon its release in 1989 this program contained 4 language options; German, Spanish, French and Italian. (wa27, 2009). Today, Muzzy has added more languages which include; Esperanto, Mandarin, Portuguese, Romanian and Russian. In addition to the new languages the creators have also added a new look and new dimensions that are more appealing to what was the original Muzzy.
On Muzzy’s site you will be able to read many convincing success stories and compelling claims. They range from “In just three months Sydney was suddenly saying everything in French” to “Our Muzzy kids are far more successful and heads above students arriving who didn’t have Muzzy”. Are these claims reflecting truths or are they merely trying to sell a product that may not work as planned?
Language acquisition comes at a time when children are learning a lot about themselves and how they interact with their environment. This stage of infancy (18-24 months) is classified under Piaget’s stage 6 mental representations. At this stage, aside from their relatively complex language use, children can project invisible trajectories, imitate people and past events, and are capable of semi-complex problem solving. At 18-24 months old children able to comprehend meanings of prepositions and use grammatically correct sentences, these are large steps from their “cooing” and “babbling” days of infancy. The parents/guardian/care provider speaking and interacting with their children for the previous months influence language acquisition. The caregiver uses baby talk, which is a type of speech that includes using a higher pitch, slower tempos, and exaggerating speech this can be referred to as child-directed speech. However, is it possible for a child to interact with a television in a short amount of time to acquire a new language that neither of the parents speaks? According to Rahima Baldwin Dancy author of ‘You Are Your Children’s First Teacher’ “Language needs to come from a living source and be related to events, emotional contexts, and cause and effect relationships in a child’s life in order for the synapses to register in meaningful ways that the child will remember. So much for educational TV and preschooler’s language development.” (Dancy, 2000, p. 80). In the study “”It Takes A Village” to Support the Vocabulary Development of Children With Multiple Risk Factors.” It was found that the mother, close ties to the family, and multiple caregivers heavily influenced language learning (Baydar, 2014). In the book ‘Development in Infancy’ chapter 9 language development in Infancy, the Author does not discuss the acquisition of language without a caregiver who is a native speaker (Bornstein H., 2014). Suggesting further that is very unlikely that a child can learn a language, at the ages of 1-4, without the specific language being part of their active environment. This further demonstrates that second language acquisition cannot be acquired with just the Muzzy program alone. The child may learn how to regurgitate the phrases that they have heard from the program but I do not believe they will be able to form sentences that reflect the complexity of their mother tongue. Further, ‘Bilingual Language Learning in Children’ stated:
“one study shows that infants exposed to a new language at 9 months of age in play sessions by a live tutor learn in just about 6 hours to discriminate foreign language sounds at levels equivalent to infants exposed to that language from birth. However, no [language] learning occurs if the same schedule is presented via video or audiotapes. This, early language learning is critically dependent on social interactions, and the quality of speech that children hear.” (Ramírez, 2016)
This demonstrates that Muzzy language learning program is not what the claims make it out to be. Children may learn certain phrases that they have learned through repetition but they are unlikely to learn the language if it is not in a “live” setting.
Although I believe that the Muzzy program is a way to get the foot in the door for language learning. I do not believe that the program alone can help a child acquire a second language without the help of the specific language in the child’s active environment. The child must have a caregiver, in addition to this program, who speaks the chosen language or live in an environment where the language has significant presences. As shown in the study “It Takes a Village” it is difficult for a child to pick up a second language without the help of one of the previously mentioned additions. If parents are looking to make their child(ren) bilingual and want to use the Muzzy routine then I would strongly advise using other means in addition to the program as Muzzy alone will not be beneficial to second language acquisition.
Baydar, N. K. (2014). ‘It takes a village’ to support the vocabulary development of children with multiple risk factors. Istanbul, Turkey: American Psycological Association.
Bornstein H., M. A. (2014). Development in Infancy (5th ed.). New York : Psycology Press.
Dancy, R. B. (2000). You Are Your Child’s First Teacher, Third Edition: Encouraging Your Child’s Natural Development From Birth. Berkeley, CA: Ten Speed Press.
Ramírez, N. F. (2016). Bilingual Language Learning in Children. Institute For Learning & Brain Sciences .
[wa27]. (2009, November 7). Muzzy Commercial. [Video File]. Retrieved from
 Prices reflect the prices that were available in 1989.