Hippo Family Club
The Hippo Family Club (ヒッポファミリークラブ?) is a brainchild of an organization known as the Institute for Language Experience, Experiment & Exchange, also known as LEX. It was created in 1981 by Yo Sakakibara, who has been researching language acquisition for over 30 years, working with researchers at Harvard and MIT, and then moving his research institute to Tokyo. The Hippo Family Club is a transnational network of community-based language clubs in which both children and adults engage in various activities with the end of acquiring multiple languages simultaneously. Yo Sakakibara has established similar organizations in the U.S., Mexico, and South Korea. In the United States, the organization is known as LEX America and the language clubs as LEX Language Project.
The activities carried out at Hippo Family Club meetings are based on language acquisition research projects and studies. The underlying concept is that anyone, at any age, can acquire new languages, given a conducive setting for language acquisition. Though languages are superficially different, there is an underlying universality among all human languages, and this is demonstrated in the speed with which a multilingual person acquires a new language.
Hippo learning environment
According to the creators of Hippo, the way most people usually attempt to learn a language, in a traditional classroom, does not provide a conducive setting for language acquisition. When infants acquire their native language, they don't do it by breaking the language down into little pieces of grammar and vocabulary, or by looking in a dictionary, so this is seen as the most unnatural way to learn a language.
It is believed that children acquiring their language learn by listening to and mimicking the broadest and most basic outline of the language. Any infant with the physical capability can acquire the language spoken around her by the age of two or three. As they advance, they begin to speak in phrases, but may only pronounce the sounds at the beginning and end of a phrase while humming through the rest. Eventually, they become more precise in their sounds and phrases, until they become a mature speaker. Even as they become native speakers as adults, however they are always making new language discoveries. Adults who are exposed to new languages in a similar way will go through the same natural process.
Children learn by listening, mimicking and making human interactions with other speakers of the language. Therefore, Hippo works by trying to create a natural, relaxed learning environment in which children and adults are exposed to, and interact with the sounds of other languages.
In addition to listening to recordings of speeches, conversations and songs in different languages, Hippo Family Club members get together in community-based clubs at least once a week for interactive activities. Members that feel confident recite what they feel they can from the recordings, even if the sounds are not accurate, and even if they don't exactly know what they are saying; the first step is to get a feel for the sounds, rhythm and melody of the languages.
Members play games, sing songs, dance, and speak with each other in the various languages they are learning. Through interaction with friends and family of all ages that participate, members absorb both new sounds and important context. The aim of HIPPO activities is not necessarily to "master" the languages, but to enjoy what Hippo founders call the "process of self-discovery," as members make new friends, strengthen family ties, and create new international connections through language.
Hippo members can attend other Hippo Clubs, including clubs established internationally. They are encouraged to widen their horizons through participation with Hippo club members in other countries. In this way they create opportunities to make friends with speakers of other native languages, and thus come in contact with many languages.
Hippo members can choose to participate in homestay programs, in which they visit a Hippo Family Club, or other non-profit or community group in another country. Participating countries include the United States, Mexico, France, Germany, Spain, Italy, Netherlands, Luxembourg, Tunisia, Russia, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, China, Taiwan, Japan, Korea, and India.
Currently, there are Hippo activities in French, Mandarin, German, Korean, Spanish, Japanese, English, Italian, Russian, Thai, Malaysian, Portuguese, Indonesian, Cantonese, Arabic, Hindi, Swedish, Vietnamese, Swahili, Turkish, and Taiwanese. Hippo Family Club establishments can choose to focus on a few, or all of these languages.
Transnational College of LEX
The Transnational College of LEX (TCL) is a private non-profit education institute focusing on the development of learning using immersion techniques which broadly follow the way in which babies learn multiple languages in a muli-linguistic environment.
The TCL has published many books, most notably a series of three books on Natural Science: Who is Fourier? A Mathematical Adventure, What is Quantum Mechanics? A Physics Adventure, and What is DNA? A Biology Adventure. The nature of the books is such that they allow accessible introductions to traditionally difficult subjects.
Nobel Prize-winning Physicist, Professor Yoichiro Nambu served as senior adviser for the second book in the series "What is Quantum Mechanics? A Physics Adventure."