In years past, many researchers were of the opinion that
early exposure to two languages could have detrimental impacts on children’s
language and cognitive development.
It is true that children who are learning
to speak two languages may temporarily have smaller vocabularies for each of
However, the overwhelming benefits of exposure to multiple languages in early childhood may be enough to throw caution to the wind and start promoting bilingualism with your little one!
Your bundle of joy is born with an innate ability to discern
tiny differences in the speech sounds of every human language. However, without exposure
to these different sounds, your baby’s developing brain will lose the ability
to perceive differences among these sounds by 6 months of age.
This is one
way your baby’s developing brain can focus on making strong connections for the
language that will be used throughout his life, and one way to weed out
connections that are simply taking up precious neural real estate.
Of course, if your tot is consistently exposed to a
language, phonological awareness of that language’s sounds will be
Early (and sustained) exposure to more than one language may make it easier for your little one to learn multiple languages later in childhood.
Plus, exposure to multiple languages can
effects in other domains of your little one’s development. For instance, many
children learning two languages with the same letters and symbols (e.g.,
English and German) learn to read faster than children learning only one
Bilingual children also exhibit cognitive advantages on many verbal
and non-verbal attention tasks.
Some families are fortunate to have more than
one language present in a household (lucky ducks!). For those of us living in
monolingual households, here are five simple ideas for exposing our babes to
languages early in life to promote bilingualism and the accompanying cognitive
Books on tape…err, app.
Pick a time of day when you are not typically exposing your
tot to your native language (when you are in a laundry-folding Zen, perhaps?)
and fill the gap with an audio book in another language.
Or choose a different
language for each day of the week. Anyone up for French Fridays and Swedish
Sundays? For a variety of free multi-language audio books, we love the LibriVox
The building blocks of language.
Promote language learning while your tot perfects those fine
motor skills with a few bilingual-themed toys. We are in love with Uncle Goose blocks
in a variety of languages.
Building towers with your little one might just
build on your foreign language skills
I saw the signs.
Although the verdict is still out on the potential
developmental benefits of using baby sign language to communicate with your
little one, research does show that baby
signs can help you bond with baby through more effective communication.
Or, brush up on your American sign language and go through the ASL alphabet
as you two practice your ABC’s.
Sing. Sing a song.
of classic nursery rhymes and songs have similar versions in foreign languages.
Try “Imse Vimse Spindel”
(aka “Itsy Bitsy Spider”) in Swedish or “Frère Jacques” in French.
if you want your little one to listen to native speakers (or have no desire to
look silly in front of your tot), sing (or lip sync) along with online songs
Books for bébé.
Read books with your babe that promote a knowledge of other languages and cultures.
Even if you aren’t bilingual, mama, we would bet that
one of your own childhood favorites is available in another language. No need
to translate Buenas Noches, Luna when you have Goodnight Moon memorized!
We also love What is Your Language?, the story of
a boy who visits countries around the world and learns about languages along
Giving your child the opportunity to hear and learn new
languages isn’t just about cognitive development. It’s about gleaning a broader
understanding of the world and, more importantly, about having fun interacting
with your little language aficionado!