Menu

Studies: You can help your toddler be bilingual, even if you aren’t

Playing + practicing words goes a long way

Studies: You can help your toddler be bilingual, even if you aren’t

Many parents love the idea of giving their child the gift of a second language. But short of moving to a foreign country, can a parent who is not bilingual help children learn another language?


New research published in the journal for The International Mind, Body and Education Society suggests you don’t have to be bilingual to help your child learn a second language—but you might want to be choose a preschool that is.

“It is possible to give very young children the opportunity to start learning a second language, with only one hour of play per day in an early education setting," said Naja Ferjan Ramirez, co-author and a research scientist at the University of Washington Institute of Learning and Brain Sciences, in a press release this month about the findings.

FEATURED VIDEO

For the study, Ferjan Ramirez and her colleagues developed a play-based English-language curriculum for public infant-education centers in Madrid, Spain. University of Washington (UW) undergrads and recent grads served as English tutors, using play-based activities to encourage children to try out English words and phrases. They also spoke to the young children in developmentally appropriate manners known as “infant-directed speed” or “parentese.” (You probably already do this—it’s basically simpler grammar, higher pitch and drawn-out vowels.)

For 18 weeks, babies between 7 months and 33 months had daily one-hour English sessions. Meanwhile, a control group participated in Madrid’s standard, classroom style bilingual program for two hours each week. In the end, the UW toddlers were recorded practicing about 74 English phrases and words per hour, while the control group only spoke about 13. When the UW kids were tested 18 weeks later, they proved they’d retained what they’d learned.

According to Ferjan Ramirez, the findings indicate even babies from monolingual homes can develop bilingual abilities at an early age.

In the United States, the researchers say replicating the study would not only help English-speaking kids learn a second language—but would also help the 27 percent of American children who don’t learn English at home.

And, for parents, the good news is that helping your child develop language skills may be as simple as playing and practicing words with them—even if you are not fluent.

What’s more, it’s never too early to start language training: Another newly published study out the University of Kansas found fetuses just older than 8 months gestational age could already tell the difference between English and Japanese.

Using a fetal biomagnetometer strapped over the mother’s belly, researchers were able to measure heart rate changes in the womb. And, sure enough, the heart rates were different when different languages were spoken.

These results suggest that language development may indeed start in utero, so if you’re pregnant you may want to start practicing your foreign language skills.

There’s nothing to suggest your fetus will pick up the vocabulary, but if you start practicing now maybe you’ll pick up enough to speak some foreign “parentese” by the time the baby’s ready for preschool.

In This Article

    14 toys that will keep your kids entertained inside *and* outside

    They transition seamlessly for indoor play.

    With fall in full swing, most parents are fresh out of boxes to check on their "Fun Concierge" hit list. It's also the point of diminishing returns on investing in outside-only toys. So with that in mind, we've rounded up some of our favorite toys that are not only built to last but will easily make the transition from outdoor to indoor play. Even better, they're Montessori-friendly and largely open-ended so your kids can get a ton of use out of them.

    From sunny backyard afternoons to rainy mornings stuck inside, these toys are sure to keep little ones engaged and entertained.

    Wooden doll stroller

    Janod wooden doll stroller

    Take their charges on a stroll around the block with this classic doll stroller. With the same versatility they're used to in their own ride, this heirloom quality carriage allows their doll or stuffy to face them or face the world.

    $120

    Detective set

    Plan Toys detective set

    This set has everything your little detective needs to solve whatever mystery they might encounter: an eye glasses, walkie-talkie, camera, a red lens, a periscope and a bag. Neighborhood watch? Watch out.

    $40

    Sand play set

    Plan Toys sand set

    Whether you're hitting the beach or the backyard sandbox, this adorable wooden sand set is ready for action. Each scoop has an embossed pattern that's perfect for sand stamping. They're also totally suitable for water play in the wild or the bathtub.

    $30

    Water play set

    Plan Toys water play set

    Filled with sand or water, this tabletop sized activity set keeps little ones busy, quiet and happy. (A mama's ideal trifecta 😉). It's big enough to satisfy their play needs but not so big it's going to flood your floors if you bring the fun inside on a rainy day.

    $100

    Mini golf set

    Plan Toys mini golf set

    Fore! This mini golf set is lawn and living room ready. Set up a backyard competition or incorporate into homeschooling brain breaks that shift focus and build concentration.

    $40

    Vintage scooter balance bike

    Janod retro scooter balance bike

    Pedals are so 2010. Balance bikes are the way to go for learning to ride a bike while skipping the training wheels stage altogether. This impossibly cool retro scooter-style is built to cruise the neighborhood or open indoor space as they're learning.

    $121

    Wooden rocking pegasus

    plan toys wooden rocking pegasus

    Your little will be ready to take flight on this fun pegasus. It gently rocks back and forth, but doesn't skimp on safety—its winged saddle, footrests and backrest ensure kids won't fall off whether they're rocking inside or outside.

    $100

    Croquet set

    Plan Toys croquet set

    The cutest croquet set we've ever seen! With adorable animal face wooden balls and a canvas bag for easy clean up, it's also crafted to stick around awhile. Round after round, it's great for teaching kiddos math and problem-solving skills as well.

    $45

    Wooden digital camera

    fathers factory wooden digital camera

    Kids get the chance to assemble the camera on their own then can adventure anywhere to capture the best moments. With two detachable magnetic lenses, four built-in filters and video recorder, your little photographer can tap into their creativity from summertime to the holidays.

    $179

    Wooden bulldozer toy

    plan toys wooden bulldozer toy

    Whether they're digging up sand in the backyad or picking up toys inside, kids can get as creative as they want picking up and moving things around. Even better? Its wooden structure means it's not an eye sore to look at wherever your digger drops it.

    $100

    Pull-along hippo

    janod toys pull along hippo toy

    There's just something so fun about a classic pull-along toy and we love that they seamlessly transition between indoor and outdoor play. Crafted from solid cherry and beechwood, it's tough enough to endure outdoor spaces your toddler takes it on.

    $33

    Baby forest fox ride-on

    janod toys baby fox ride on

    Toddlers will love zooming around on this fox ride-on, and it's a great transition toy into traditional balance bikes. If you take it for a driveway adventure, simply use a damp cloth to wipe down the wheels before bringing back inside.

    $88

    Balance board

    Plan Toys balance board

    Balance boards are a fabulous way to get the wiggles out. This one comes with a rope attachment, making it suitable for even the youngest wigglers. From practicing their balance and building core strength to working on skills that translate to skateboarding and snowboarding, it's a year-round physical activity that's easy to bring inside and use between Zoom classes, too!

    $75

    Meadow ring toss game

    Plan Toys meadow ring toss game

    Besides offering a fantastic opportunity to hone focus, coordination, determination and taking turns, lawn games are just plain fun. Set them up close together for the littles and spread them out when Mom and Dad get in on the action. With their low profile and rope rings, they're great for indoors as well.

    $30

    We independently select and share the products we love—and may receive a commission if you choose to buy. You've got this.

    Shop

    10 photos to take on baby’s first day that you'll cherish forever

    You'll obsess over these newborn baby pictures.

    Bethany Menzel: Instagram + Blog

    As you're preparing for baby's birth, we bet you're dreaming of all of the amazing photos you'll take of your precious new babe. As a professional photographer and mama, I have some tips for newborn photos you'll want to capture.

    Here are the 10 photos you will want to take on baby's first day.

    Keep reading Show less
    Life

    In a recent survey shared in the Reproductive Health journal, one out of six women in the United States reported being mistreated while in labor, where mistreatment included, "loss of autonomy; being shouted at, scolded, or threatened; and being ignored, refused, or receiving no response to requests for help."

    One out of six.

    To make these numbers even more sickening, mistreatment was more common among women of color, women with partners of color, women with lower socioeconomic status, and women under the age of 30.

    (And yet people still question the validity of stating that black mothers are at a higher risk of pregnancy and birth-related complications.)

    FEATURED VIDEO

    Rarely at a loss for words, I find myself almost unable to speak.

    I am a midwife, and I am disgusted.

    Keep reading Show less
    News