New Haven residents who are interested in learning a foreign language through non-traditional methods now have the opportunity to take classes in French, Spanish, Japanese or Italian in the Audubon Arts District.

Aux Trois Pommes, a private language school for students as young as two and a half years old, held the grand opening for its New Haven site on April 8. After offering classes at its Branford location since January 2002, the school expanded to a new site at 20 Lincoln Way, a University Properties holding.

Aux Trois Pommes owner Marie-Jose Babouder-Matta said demand for classes at the original language school in Branford was so high that she decided to open an additional school to provide a more convenient option for students and parents.

“We were looking for an ideal situation, and Audubon sounded like the best place we could find,” she said. “It’s safe, fun — it’s all of those wonderful things.”

Babouder-Matta, who is also a teacher at the school, learned to speak French, Italian, Arabic, English, Greek, and Japanese while growing up in Lebanon. She said she originally decided to open Aux Trois Pommes — “At the Three Apples” in French — because she believes strongly in language immersion at an early age.

“Their attitude is so much better when they’re small — if they don’t understand something, it’s okay,” she said. “We become more analytical when we grow up — if we miss one word we feel we missed the whole meaning.”

Carole Chu ’92 said she decided to send her three year old daughter Laura to Aux Trois Pommes to take French and Spanish classes not only because Laura enjoys it, but also because language has an educational value.

“I had a tough time with beginning French at Yale, so I thought it was a good idea to get her started,” Chu said. “The earlier you expose them, the easier it is — it’s also cute to hear her say her name in French.”

The language teachers, most of whom are native speakers, take a lot of pride in the methods used at Aux Trois Pommes, Babouder-Matta said. Unlike traditional classes, the curriculum primarily utilizes interactive and hands-on methods to get students speaking confidently. For example, students may debate in Italian or construct menus in French.

“It comes alive to you,” Babouder-Matta said. “It’s not on paper, it’s not abstract.”

She said the school also tries to relax the adult students in such a way that makes it easier for them to grasp a language, just as the younger students are able to do. While Aux Trois Pommes also offers private tutoring, they encourage students to participate in regular classes.

University Properties Retail Analyst Meg Reuland ’03 said Aux Trois Pommes will add to the “family-friendly” character of the Whitney-Audubon neighborhood. Other arts destinations in the neighborhood include the Creative Arts Workshop, the Neighborhood Music School, and the New Haven Reads Book Bank.

“It’s an area where children can be enriched with extracurriculars,” Reuland said. “They saw their language school as a real complement to a place where families come for enrichment.”

Other family-oriented stores in the Whitney-Audubon Retail District, such as the Toystore on Audubon, Boutique of Dreams, and Sogno, will also complement the school.

Aux Trois Pommes offers morning, afternoon and evening classes, as well as a summer camp option for children to learn through immersion.