While it’s not exactly David versus Goliath, a Lawrenceville couple`s up and coming company, International Baby, seems quietly ready to give the Disney-owned "Baby Einstein" a run for the educational dollar.
When Asako Yoshino, along with her husband Kevin Pollock, gave birth to their daughter in 2001, little did they know that they were also about to give birth to a new company. "We really wanted our daughter to become bilingual in both Japanese and English as soon as possible," says Yoshino, who was born and raised in Japan. "But when we looked for educational materials we couldn’t really find any that we thought would be suitable."
The couple headed to department stores, bookstores, and specialty stores like Babies-R-Us, as well as online catalogs. They discovered products by the then emerging big name in educational DVDs, CDs, and books: Baby Einstein, the company founded by a Bedminster couple who sold it to Disney for a reported $25 million. "Baby Einstein has a pretty good product," says Pollock. "The only flaw that we saw was that they didn’t give you a choice on what language you wanted to focus on. There were all these other languages on there, and we just wanted English and Japanese."
That was when the couple decided to take the concept created by Baby Einstein one step further and start another company, "International Baby 101," with the intention of producing, marketing, and selling DVDs, flashcards, and other child-friendly multi-language educational materials to fill the need of an ever increasing market.
"There are a growing number of parents who are interested in having their children learn foreign languages," says Pollock. "Back in the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s, when many immigrants were coming over, the concern was about trying to assimilate into American culture. But now it is more about trying to keep your culture as you participate in American society. Part of that effort is in the language and we want to help people do this."
ternational Baby avoids the somewhat confusing graphics of Baby Einstein that can cram in too much information into a given lesson.
"We did research and found out that children learn better when they are totally immersed in a language, especially when they learn the words to music," explains Pollock. Calling the process "Total Immersion Plus," Pollock says the DVDs offer young children a musical window into another language. "It’s fun for the kids," he says. "They can immerse themselves in the process and that way they learn it very quickly. It’s the same for adults."
The DVDs are available on their website for $19.95(www.InternationalBaby.com) as well as in some specialty stores in New York City, Amazon.com, and various other online retailers. "The Japanese/English DVD is being distributed in Japan right now by a company called Geneon, the largest distributor of Anime [Japanese animation] products," says Pollock. "It’s doing very well there." According to Yoshino, who visits her family in Japan on a regular basis, Japanese parents are very anxious to get their children on the bilingual bandwagon. "All the parents want to start to teach English to their children at a very early age," she says. "Our DVDs fill this need."
Right now, "International Baby" is selling only the English/Spanish and English/Japanese DVDs, but there is more on the horizon. "We also are trying to get some flash cards and puzzles together to create some
international bilingual products. It’s a small company and that kind of thing takes time," says Yoshino. They also hope to eventually produce educational materials for children older than infants and toddlers.
According to Pollock and Yoshino, it’s never too early to start children on the bilingual path. "We have learned that children who learn to become bilingual at an early age learn English better as well because they associate objects with words more quickly," says Pollock, who spent his junior year at Rutgers studying in Japan. "A lot of people worry about teaching a child two languages because they are afraid that the child will get confused and learn to talk later than other kids. But we have found that soon all that fades away and they really become very articulate in both languages."
Their daughter is completely bilingual in English and Japanese, according to Pollock. "Her Japanese is better than mine," he laughs.
With public schools in New Jersey now teaching foreign languages to children as young as five and six years old, Pollock believes that more parents will want to give their kids a leg-up on the educational competition. "It’s really about the exposure," says Pollock. "Exposing kids to the language as early as possible is really important because it will help them later when they are in school trying to learn it. They will know that they have heard it somewhere before. At a young age, children’s brains are like sponges. They are constantly learning things. The more you expose them to it now, the better."
Yoshino feels her DVDs can help children meet the challenges of an ever-increasing global world. A native of Chiba (a suburb of Tokyo), where her father was a chef, she earned her associate degree in fine arts from Aoyama College, then came to America to study English. She earned another associate degree, this one in computer graphics, at Delgado Community College in New Orleans, where she met her husband.
"I am a mother, and I know what my daughter likes, what she needed to know, and what she could learn," she says. "I took advantage of being a mother in making this product. I know that there must be many mothers and fathers out there who want their children to be bilingual. It’s important to start very early and this can be studied easily when children are very young. The children all love my product. It’s a good method."
International Baby Company LLC, 43 Gallo Court, Pennington 08648. Asako Yoshino, co-founder. 866-603-4091; fax, 609-895-9538. Home page: www.internationalbaby101.com