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

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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.

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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.

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Mamas expecting babies this month are a special bunch—and not just because it's statistically unique to have a birthday during the shortest month of the year.

Science shows babies born in February already have advantages with everything from physical growth to creativity to even presidential elections. (It's no coincidence that President's Day is this month!)

Here are six reasons why February birthdays are so special:

1. They may be bound for the NBA

According to a 2006 study from Harvard researchers that examined data from 21,000 children around the world (including the southern hemisphere), those born in February were taller and weighed more at the age of 7 than their friends who were born during other times of the year. (Further proof: Michael Jordan celebrates his birthday on February 17.)

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2. Or on their way to a doctorate

The same study also showed winter-born babies performed best in a series of intelligence tests. As the researchers concluded, “The overall pattern of findings is that winter/spring babies are both 'bigger' on the anthropometric variables and 'smarter' on the selected neurocognitive variables."

3. They also have artsy sides

February babies are either born under the Aquarius or Pisces star signs—which are linked to the traits of originality and creativity. But even if you aren't one for astrology, a study complied from the United Kingdom's Office for National Statistics found that people born in February are more likely to be artists.

4. Which may set them up for stardom

Speaking of the zodiac, one study published in the Journal of Social Sciences found a disproportionate number of celebrities claim the Aquarius star sign. That includes everyone from Bob Marley to Jennifer Aniston to Shakira. It's also one of the most popular star signs for American presidents—including Abraham Lincoln (February 12) and Ronald Reagan (February 6).

5. Or, at least, satisfying careers

But don't feel bad for babies born in the latter half of the month: A survey from CareerBuilder.com found Pisces adults were among the “most satisfied" with their jobs. (They also have legs up on the competition if they ever find their way into a presidential election.)

6. They may have the rarest birthday of all

Babies on their way this year are out of luck. But, come 2020, a special group of newborns will have the distinction of being born on Leap Day, February 29. Sure, they won't get to mark their birthday for another four years, but they do get a prime pick of perks when that day does roll back around!

Snuggle up with that newborn while you can, mama. Once your February baby gets going, they'll be hard to stop.

[Originally published February 2, 2018]

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As the world continues to mourn father of four Kobe Bryant and his 13-year-old daughter Gianna, many are remembering Bryant for his role not only as a basketball great but also as a #girldad.

That is how SportsCenter anchor Elle Duncan remembers him. On ESPN this week she recalled meeting Bryant back in 2018 when she was 8 months pregnant.

She says Bryant asked her "How are you? How close are you? What are you having?" and when she told him she was expecting a girl he gave her a high five and said, "Girls are the best."

Instagram post by SportsCenter • Jan 28, 2020 at 4:59am UTC

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The two talked about raising girls, with Duncan asking Bryant for parenting advice. She also asked him if he and his wife Vanessa were going to have any more kids.

"He said that his wife Vanessa really wanted to try again for a boy, but was sort of jokingly concerned that it would be another girl. I was like, 'Four girls, are you joking? What would you think, how would you feel?'" Duncan recalls

She continues: "Without hesitation, he said, 'I would have five more girls if I could. I'm a girl dad."

As Duncan noted on Instagram, she couldn't have known that Bryant, then a father of three, would welcome another baby girl, little Capri Kobe, in 2019. All she knew was that she was impressed by this man who loved his girls so much.

"I'm glad to have had that brief time with him. I'm so sorry that 4th girl won't know her dad," Duncan writes.

During his 2018 conversation with Duncan, Bryant remarked on the athletic abilities of his middle daughter, Gianna, telling Duncan she was better than he'd been at her age.

Tragically, Bryant and Gianna died en route to a basketball game where she would have played and he would have coached.

"When I reflect on this tragedy," Duncan said on ESPN, "I suppose that the only small source of comfort for me is knowing that he died doing what he loved the most: being a dad. Being a girl dad."

Our hearts are with the Bryant family this week, and all the families of the victims of the helicopter crash.

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People often say that having a second child doesn't much add to the workload of parenting. There's no steep learning curve: You already know how to make a bottle, install a car seat and when to call the pediatrician. And you're already doing laundry, making lunches and supervising bath time—so throwing a second kid in the tub isn't a big deal.

Except that it is. Having a second child doesn't just mean attaching a second seat to your stroller. Adding a whole new person to your family is more complicated than that, and it's okay to say that it is hard.

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A study out of Australia disputes the popular idea that after making the transition from people to parents, making the jump from one child to two is easy. The researchers found that having a second child puts a lot of pressure on parents' time and their mental health, and mothers bear the brunt of the burden.

When looking at heterosexual couples, the researchers found that before a first child is born both partners feel equal amounts of "time pressure," but once the child is born, that pressure grows, more so for mothers than fathers.

Basically, parents feel psychological stress when they feel they don't have enough time to do all they need to. One baby makes both parents feel more stress, but mom's increase is more than dad's. When a second baby comes, that time pressure doubles for both parents, and since mom already had more than dad, there's now a gulf between them.

The researchers behind this study—Leah Ruppanner, Francisco Perales and Janeen Baxter—say that after a first child is born, a mother's mental health improves, but after a second child, it declines.

Writing for The Conversation, the trio explains:

"Second children intensify mothers' feelings of time pressure. We showed that if mothers did not have such intense time pressures following second children, their mental health would actually improve with motherhood. Fathers get a mental health boost with their first child, but also see their mental health decline with the second child. But, unlike mothers, fathers' mental health plateaus over time. Clearly, fathers aren't facing the same chronic time pressure as mothers over the long-term."

The researchers say that even when mothers reduce their work time, the time pressure is still there and that "mothers cannot shoulder the time demands of children alone."

Adding a second child to the family isn't just a matter of throwing a few more socks in the laundry: It means a schedule that is already stretched is now filling up with twice as many appointments, twice as many school functions. Mothers only have 24 hours in the day, and as much as we wish we could add a couple extra hours per child, we can't.

Time simply can't change to help us, but society can. As the researchers noted, when time pressure is removed, motherhood actually improves mental health.

We love our lives, we love our kids, we love parenting, but there is only so much of our day to go around.

Ruppanner, Perales and Baxter suggest that if society were to help mothers out more, our mental health (and therefore our children's wellbeing as well) would improve even after two or three kids. "Collectivising childcare – for example, through school buses, lunch programs and flexible work policies that allow fathers' involvement – may help improve maternal mental health," the researchers explain, adding that "it is in the national interest to reduce stressors so that mothers, children and families can thrive."

Whether you're talking about Australia or America, that last bit is so true, but this research proves that the myth about second-time parenthood isn't. Even if you already have the skills and the hand-me-downs, having a second child isn't as easy as it is sometimes made out to be.

We can love our children and our lives and still admit when things aren't easy.

[This post was first published December 18, 2018.]


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As parents we don't start our families thinking we will lose our partner or a child when they are still in their prime, but that is what happened to Vanessa Bryant when tragedy struck her family on Sunday. We feel incredible pain and sadness for Vanessa who is now dealing with the unimaginable at less than a year postpartum. It's impossible to conceive of the grief that Vanessa and her daughters are feeling today and our hearts are with them.

America is mourning the loss of the basketball superstar and his daughter Gianna, who was only 13 years old. The two were killed in a helicopter crash in Calabasas, California.

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Gianna, or Gigi as her family called her, brought her father back to basketball after his retirement and was showing the world that girls can be amazing athletes.

As her father explained on Jimmy Kimmel Live!, Gianna's goal was to play in the WNBA and her father was sure she could make that happen. Bryant told Kimmel: "The best thing that happens is when we go out and fans will come up to me, and she'll be standing next to me. And they'll be like, 'Man, you gotta have a boy. You and V gotta have a boy, man, have somebody carry on your tradition, the legacy.' And she's like, 'Oy, I got this. You don't need no boy for that. I got this." And I'm like, 'That's right. Yes, you do. You got this.'"

Like her father, Gianna was an incredibly talented basketball player. Her basketball teammate, Alyssa Altobelli, along with her parents, Keri and Orange Coast College baseball coach John Altobelli were also killed. It's an unimaginable loss of young talent and knowledge for the basketball community, a nation and the victims' families.

Kobe and Vanessa Bryant just welcomed their fourth child, baby Capri Kobe Bryant, in July 2019. "We are beyond excited that our baby girl 'Koko' has arrived!!," Kobe announced on Instagram.

The hearts of an entire nation and much of the world are with them in this terrible moment. Bryant was beloved and the news of his death and Gianna's is hitting many people incredibly hard.

If you are having trouble coping with the news today mama, remember that It is okay to turn it off. It is okay to go offline and turn your attention to your family. It's okay to talk about how hard this is hitting you and to take time to give yourself some extra care as you process this. Grief looks different for everyone and even those who never met Bryant were touched by his cultural impact and legacy.

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