We’ve all heard about the wonderful benefits of children and adults learning a second language, so naturally you may be thinking of giving your babe a head start. But like anything you probably have questions before diving right in. Especially if you happen to be monolingual.
“How soon is too soon? Will he or she get confused? And what if I don’t speak any other languages?”
The founder of Bilingual Birdies, Sarah Farzam, has the answers.
Is it ever too early to introduce a second language?
It's really never too early to begin learning a second languages. Children less than a year old have a 63% chance of learning a second language versus a 1% chance as a teenager. There are myriad benefits to begin learning at a young age. They range from increased cognitive development to enhanced social emotional skills and beyond. Learn more here.
When is the optimal time age to introduce a language?
Below five years of age is the most effective for language acquisition. Luckily, there are some really unique ways to connect with young children and create a fun learning environment for them. Part of why we teach through music at Bilingual Birdies is because music evokes emotion and emotion triggers memory. Children naturally respond so well to music, which in many ways is the universal language.
Does every family member have to speak to my baby in the same language?
Super awesome tip of the day: If one parent speaks to the child in one language and another parent speaks in a different language the child will be bilingual in both languages. The key is to stay as consistent as possible and keep things feeling natural and true.
What if our baby's caretaker speaks to my baby in a different language but we don't?
One of the greatest gifts your caretaker can give your children (in addition to the incredible task of raising them during the day) is to only speak to them in their native language. Bilingual caretakers are an excellent way to reinforce language learning in the home. If you don't speak the same language as them, it's ok, it's never too late.
Will my baby get confused?
Your baby will not get confused. A recent study by psychology professor Dr. Werker from the University of British Columbia showed that babies born to bilingual mothers not only prefer both of those languages over others — but are also able to register that the two languages are different. So, just go for it! Your baby is experiencing so much every day and his or her brain will develop to a much stronger level when two or more languages are introduced.
Is there any reason not to introduce a new language?
Honestly, in this day and age it's almost as if your child will be behind if you don't introduce a new language.
Is there such a thing as introducing too many languages to baby?
There is no such thing as introducing too many languages to a baby. Even in their infancy, babies are able to sort out more than one language at the same time. A study under Dr. Patricia Kuhl from the University of Washington states that babies as young as 10 months are able to discriminate sounds in more than one language. I will give you the most practical example I know: myself. I learned Spanish from my mom and Farsi from my dad while I was exposed to English in my daily life growing up in a multicultural home in Los Angeles. And I turned out, just fine!
What if I want to learn a language that my baby is learning? Do you have a few tips to do this?
Learning with your baby is a fantastic idea! Mommy and me classes like the ones we offer at Bilingual Birdies are a super positive bonding experience and really leave both mama bird and baby bird feeling like they are gaining cultural awareness together. Other resources like our Bilingual Birdies CDs or even DVDs such as Little Pim and toys from Oznoz are a great tool to use in the home and are a fun way to learn.
What are some easy ways to begin introducing a language?
The best way to introduce a language to your little one is to first identify what they like and what is also fun for you. If the idea is to make the learning process a family affair then note what things everyone at home enjoys doing. From there you can tailor the joy of language learning to meet the needs of your own nest. If it's dancing, find awesome songs in Spanish and have a nightly dance party in the living room to different kid-friendly salsa and cumbia tracks. If it's food (who doesn't love food?!) then pick out the best restaurants in Chinatown and take family field trips with a mission of learning and practicing new words in the second language found on the menu. One technique is to label things in your home in the second language as a reminder to adults to read those words aloud in a fun repetitive way. Flash cards work too! But one of the best ways create a lasting love for learning a second language and encourage fluency later in life is to build a community around that intention. Find other friends (bilingual or monolingual) who are also interested in teaching their kids a second language and plan weekly play dates with them. Set up a comfortable space where your child sees everyone on board and excited for this bilingual adventure, and they will be too. Bilingual Birdies offers in-home private lessons where we send our outstanding bilingual musicians to you on your ideal day and time to lead the party in your choice of Spanish, French, Mandarin, Hebrew or English (for ESL families). Kids get to learn while they play and we've found this is truly the best way for them to retain the new information. What could be more fun than learning through live music, movement, dance, puppetry and games?
Is it all or nothing or will my child benefit from learning a few words and commands in a different language?
It's definitely not all or nothing! I get this question a lot especially from moms who aren't quite completely bilingual but still throw in some words here and there with their babies when they can. At such a young age, early childhood is a time to instill a love of language learning in your baby and get them excited about mastering this challenge over time. The feeling around the second language has to be established as a positive one (via music, food, friends, etc) and this can be done even with limited introduction to new vocabulary. My Mexican mom used to only sing to me in Spanish before bedtime or when I had a cold since the languages in our home are Farsi (my dad is Iranian) and English. It wasn't until later in life when I moved to Mexico City for a year after college that I became fully fluent in Spanish. The foundation was set in my childhood and made it that much easier to get it together as an adult.
Sarah Farzam is the Founder and Director of Bilingual Birdies, a foreign language and live music program for young children in New York City. Bilingual Birdies teaches Spanish, French, Mandarin, Hebrew, and English as a Second Language through their live music curriculum. The company strives to encourage cross-cultural awareness by fostering a love for language and culture. Sarah launched Bilingual Birdies seven years ago with one location and three children. Today Bilingual Birdies has over 50 preschool partnerships and educates nearly 2,000 children per week, with a staff of 25 talented bilingual musicians. Bilingual Birdies has been featured on the Today Show, CNN, BBC, and in the New York Times as the premiere way to introduce children to a foreign language in the early childhood classroom. Most recently Sarah has developed Culture Academy, an online teacher training program which she hopes to offer to large childcare agencies in the US and abroad who are interested in implementing Bilingual Birdies methodologies in their own classrooms. She is trilingual due to her Mexican mom and Iranian dad and believes that all children should feel empowered to know that they being bilingual is one of the most awesome things in the world ever. She's also a yogi and planning to launch Bilingual Birdies in San Francisco in the winter of 2015. bilingualbirdies.com