Cate Hamilton is the founder of Babel Babies, a company which runs multilingual music lessons from birth to Key Stage 2. After graduating from Oxford University with a degree in English and Modern Languages, Cate worked in Paris and then in various jobs before becoming an English and French teacher at a secondary school in Glasgow. She now lives in Cheltenham with her husband and three children. I asked Cate about her experiences, plans for the future and who has inspired her to succeed in business.
How did the idea for Babel Babies come about?
After I had my first baby in 2010 I realised that babies are incredible at learning languages from birth, which was very inspiring after spending quite a few years trying to convince teenagers in Glasgow that French wasn’t a total waste of their time. At six weeks old my little boy was copying me saying ‘hello’ and I was speaking to him in French sometimes, but felt a bit strange doing that in case I confused him. Plus I also speak Italian and Portuguese, so I wondered if I should introduce all of them. I started reading up on bilingualism and multilingualism, and at the same time I was discussing with a good friend from university which languages she would teach her new baby as she speaks Russian, German and Arabic. We decided to sing songs to our boys in lots of languages, keeping a blog of our experiments, and our NCT friends joined us too. After a few months our group outgrew my lounge and I decided not to go back to teaching in schools, but to see how Babel Babies might work as a business. We hired a room once a week in a pub, encouraged people to come and sing in many languages and stay for coffee, and it really took off. The combination of our musical approach and research into language acquisition is equally as effective for adults and children, and very different to how we learned languages in school: it’s a little language revolution!
What are your plans for the business in 2018?
After six years of working with families and young children, I’ve realised that the adults love learning the songs in different languages for themselves, as much as they appreciate the opportunity to start languages early with their children. This year I am recruiting a team of language revolutionaries to expand our sessions across Gloucestershire and Bristol, extending our age range from birth up to Key Stage 2 in schools, and introduce lifelong-learning sessions for adults and training for teachers too. For me it’s very important that Babel Babies avoids becoming yet another franchised children’s business at this stage of our development. We are all working together to create new materials, in a way that only teachers can – it’s an explosion of energy and creativity. I also want to offer a truly flexible work opportunity for highly qualified education professionals, who want to build up their hours of work alongside their other commitments, including their families. So, expect lots of new social events with a language twist – languages are for talking, after all.
Do you have any words of wisdom for aspiring business women?
Firstly, I think it’s OK to pivot. For a while I thought franchising quickly was going to be a good plan, but actually it made me very unhappy and since I started the business to fulfil a need in my own family, it was no good going off in a direction that brought no joy. Change of tack, and we are all so much happier. Secondly, surround yourself by positive people who champion what you are doing, and who really get you and the way your brain works. I’m collaborating with some other incredible business women who I’ve met through networking events locally and nationally. Women supporting women is an amazing thing, and if you find your crowd, you can really raise each other up.
Who inspires you in the world of business?
I’m a huge fan of entrepreneurs who are trying to make a difference to the world, whether on a small or large-scale. So I love the communities that Kate Starkey and Hayley Southwood have created with CheltenhamMaman and Southwood Social Hub. There is a lot of love and inspiration in their new approach to networking groups. Instagram is a riot of colourful and inspiring businesses, and one that really resonates with me is Mother Pukka because I love Anna’s honesty and her #flexappeal campaign is close to my heart. I’m also eternally grateful to my Dad for his steady business insight: sometimes I can get caught up in this week’s drama, and he helps me see how in six months/two years it’ll all pan out if I make choice A or choice B now. It’s good to take the long view sometimes, and not sweat the small stuff, which as a tired mamma of three, can be a useful reminder!
Are you a language teacher based in Gloucestershire or Bristol? Babel Babies is looking for talented linguists to join their team – to find out more click here: babelbabies.com/Blog, or email Sarah Wilkinson: firstname.lastname@example.org.