If you’re raising a child in a multilingual household, you might be worried that learning two languages simultaneously will confuse your child.
On the contrary, early childhood is an ideal time to learn a second language.
Research continuously finds that children who learn two or more languages from birth typically become native speakers.
In contrast, adults trying to learn a second language rarely achieve native like fluency.
Why is this?
We’re Voz Speech Therapy, a Washington DC pediatric speech therapy clinic, and today we’re going to answer that question.
We recently wrote another article on the subject – Debunking The Myths About Speech Development In Bilingual Children – but there’s more to it than just myths.
How do babies learn two languages at the same time?
Keep reading to find out more.
When Do Babies Start Learning Language?
The first three years of a child’s life is the most crucial period for speech development.
This is why early intervention speech therapy is so crucial – the sooner your child gets speech therapy for stuttering, speech sound disorders, or orofacial myofunctional disorders like tongue tie, the less time they have to form bad habits.
While this is undoubtedly true, you may be surprised to learn that babies actually begin to learn language before they are even born.
While pregnant, your voice is the most dominant sound for your unborn child.
Subsequently, babies can differentiate between your voice and someone else’s by the time they’re born.
How Does A Baby’s Brain Adapt To Multiple Languages?
When we talk about the various different speech sounds humans can make, we refer to them as “phonemes”.
That’s different from letters – there are 26 letters in the Latin alphabet, but most letters can represent more than one sound.
There are more than 7000 languages in the world today, and if you consider all of them together, there are more than 800 different phonemes across them.
That’s a lot of different sounds, and a newborn baby’s brain is capable of distinguishing between all of them.
However, this ability will be lost by your child’s first birthday.
This is one of the reasons why native English speakers tend to have an easier time learning Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, and French – many of the phonemes are the same.
Compare that with Hungarian, Turkish, or Japanese, and it’s much more difficult – again, because of the phonemes.
What this means is that the first year of your baby’s life is an ideal period to teach them multiple languages.
Since their brains are capable of distinguishing between all phonemes, they are more capable of picking up any language that they have been exposed to.
Ultimately, children who are taught multiple languages during infancy become specialized in the phonemes from multiple languages.
On the other hand, monolingual children only become specialized in the phonemes of a single language.
Benefits Of Bilingualism In Babies
Now that you know how babies simultaneously learn two languages so easily, you might be wondering if teaching your child to be bilingual will provide them with any benefits.
Let’s take a look at some of the benefits of bilingualism in babies.
1. They Build A Broader Vocabulary
Some parents worry that teaching their children two languages will negatively impact their vocabulary.
After all, it’s true that babies learning multiple languages typically hear fewer words of each.
Nonetheless, research shows that bilingual children don’t lag behind their monolingual peers.
On the contrary, bilingual children generally have vocabulary sizes that are equal or greater than their peers.
They may know fewer words in one of their two languages than their monolingual peers, but their total known words tends to be about on par.
2. They Have Better Communication Skills
Development of communication skills is another benefit to bilingualism in babies.
Children raised bilingual are experts at listening and understanding other perspectives.
Therefore, bilingual children are often found to be better communicators than their monolingual peers.
3. They Develop Better Concentration Skills
Research suggests that bilingual children have improved executive functioning skills.
In other words, bilingual children are more capable of shifting their attention between tasks than their monolingual peers.
This is because speaking multiple languages requires you to quickly pick one language while suppressing the other.
Additionally, bilingual children often develop advanced metalinguistic skills, or the ability to think about language in a broad sense.
4. They Become Better Problem Solvers
Similarly, bilingual children are typically better problem solvers than their monolingual peers.
Learning multiple languages helps to develop your mental alertness, which in turn helps with problem solving capabilities.
Additionally, bilingual children have an easier time dividing objects by shapes and colors.
5. They Have Greater Empathy For Others
Finally, bilingualism in children helps teach empathy.
Being able to communicate with different people across different cultures provides your child with a sense of open mindedness.
Understanding multiple languages will also allow your child to become more accepting and understanding of others who are different to them.
Is It Confusing For A Baby To Learn Two Languages?
As we touched upon in the introduction to this article, the thought that teaching two languages will be confusing to your baby is often a major worry for parents.
The concept of “code switching”, which refers to the tendency for bilingual children to combine both of their languages while speaking, might be confused as proof that this is the case.
Fortunately, research has proven that bilingual babies learn language as well as monolingual babies.
Code switching is often a result of children copying their parents.
Additionally, code switching is often helpful to bilingual children as it provides another language they can borrow from if they can’t think of the appropriate word in one language.
Therefore, code switching is part of normal language development for bilingual children.
Is Bilingualism Linked With Speech Disorders
Like the myth that teaching two languages is confusing to babies, many parents also worry that bilingualism might be linked with pediatric speech disorders.
Speech disorders aren’t caused by bilingualism.
Monolingual and bilingual are equally likely to develop a speech disorder.
If you’re worried that your child could be developing a speech disorder, it’s a good idea to book an appointment with a speech therapist for a speech therapy assessment near me.
Book Your Appointment At Voz Speech Therapy Today
Do you have additional worries about bilingualism in your child that we haven’t covered here?
Suspect they may have a speech or language disorder?
At Voz Speech Therapy, we love answering your questions and helping you discover the best methods for helping your child’s speech development.
Book your appointment with Voz Speech Therapy today to get started on a speech development program that’ll help your child.
1331 H St NW Ste 200,
Washington, DC 20005
Voz Speech Therapy is a pediatric bilingual speech therapy clinic in Washington, DC that provides individualized services based on the specific needs of your or your child. Therapy sessions are provided in English or Spanish, depending on your child’s native language. Voz Speech Therapy es una clínica pediátrica bilingüe de terapia del habla en Washington, DC que brinda servicios individualizados según las necesidades específicas de usted o su hijo. Las sesiones de terapia se brindan en inglés o español, según el idioma nativo de su hijo.