As parents and teachers, we always want to learn more about how our kids grow and learn.
We want our children to have the best start in life. Understanding how they develop and process information from birth to kindergarten can put our minds at ease.
Language development is a fascinating process that sparks varied thoughts and opinions. You may be surprised to learn that the research on this subject dates back to as early as 1999, with updates as recent as 2022.
One of the most exciting findings in language development is that babies are born with a natural ability to learn a language. From birth, they constantly process information from their environment and make connections between sounds, words, and meanings.
But what about learning multiple languages at the same time? Is it possible for babies to successfully learn more than one language at a young age?
The answer is yes, and research has shown that babies exposed to multiple languages from birth can learn and use both languages successfully.
In an earlier blog post titled “What is the best age for my child to learn a second language,” I briefly discussed the language development process of babies and whether or not they can learn multiple languages simultaneously.
I’ll delve deeper into this fascinating topic in this blog and provide a more comprehensive understanding. We’ll examine the world of language development and explore what experts in the field have to say.
So, sit back and get ready to learn more about how babies succeed in learning more than one language at a time.
The connection between hearing, seeing, and speech
Let’s begin by looking at the connection between hearing, seeing, and speech.
These three senses work together in coordination with the brain during child development from age 4-5. As I mentioned in my previous post, babies start hearing and recognizing their mother’s voice while still in the womb.
This means a developing fetus is introduced to speech and language before birth. While in the womb, the baby mainly picks up on the rhythm and intonation of the voice.
Of the three senses, hearing is the most developed when a child is born, while sight is still immature, and the brain is not yet fully developed.
But the system of neurons and synapses starts developing rapidly immediately after birth. Every experience of touch, sound, and taste is recorded in the brain through this system of neurons and synapses.
Research shows that infants exposed to more child-directed speech tend to develop better language skills, both in their primary language and any secondary languages they may learn.
As infants grow, their sense of sight improves, allowing them to recognize faces and objects. This is essential to language acquisition because it allows them to associate words with objects and people.
As children learn words, they begin to link sounds with specific meanings. This is where the connection between hearing and speech comes in. Children learn to produce speech by imitating the sounds they hear from others. This is a gradual process, starting with babbling and eventually progressing to form recognizable words.
As children grow, they develop further speech and understand more complex language structures, such as grammar and syntax. At this point, they can also start to read and write, further strengthening the connection between hearing, seeing, and speech.
Learning a new language: babies vs. adults
According to Carol Bainbridge’s edited article, “How do Children Learn Language,” newborn babies can hear, discern, and mimic over 150 sounds from the world’s 6,500 languages. This includes 44 sounds specific to the English language.
At this age, the baby’s articulatory apparatus (tongue, cheeks, lips, and nasal passages) is supple and can produce sound effortlessly.
But if you’re an adult learning a foreign language, you’ll likely have noticed some difficulties with pronunciation. For example, the nasally ‘y’ and ‘r’ sounds in French can be challenging to master.
As a French teacher, I noticed a big difference between teaching these sounds to children and adults. I say the sounds with children, and they repeat the phrases back to me with accurate pronunciation.
However, adults often have slower spoken language development and need extra guidance to grow their oral language skills.
At the same time, kids tend to hold on to correct pronunciation, whereas adults may need to work harder to master speech sounds.
What I find most beautiful is that no matter where we are, we all have the same starting point when learning a new language. The speed at which a baby learns will differ, but the process is the same.
As babies, we are all surrounded by a community of similar speakers. Through this community, we pick up on high-frequency sounds during cognitive development.
How can you assist your child with learning a foreign language?
Being patient with your child is crucial regarding early language development milestones. As a parent, it’s important to remember that every child learns at their own pace and in their unique way.
Language learning gradually requires much practice, exposure, and repetition. Taking the time to be patient and supportive of your child as they learn a language can go a long way in helping them succeed.
Spending time with your children associating words and sounds with the tracking of your eyes is a helpful way to assist your child on their language development journey.
It’s also helpful to find a way to speak to your baby. A recommended method is to call their name while pointing to things and making high-pitched sounds to help them learn your language.
At first, your baby will copy what you do and say by mimicking your behaviors, intonation, gestures, and sounds. But rest assured that they’re figuring it all out for themselves. Your child will start forming their own opinions as they age before vocalizing them out loud.
A bi-lingual child will go through the same process. It’s interesting to see a child’s ability to mimic what they hear in the second language. The mimicking is the same, but the gestures, intonation, sounds, and behaviors belong to the second language.
To support your child’s language learning, it’s helpful to immerse them in communities where both languages are spoken.
This allows them to hear and see words in isolation and observe adults or older speakers as they use gestures and point to objects. All of these factors contribute to the recipe for successful language learning.
What happens when your child is exposed to more than one language at a time?
The flexibility of a child’s brain during the early stages of life is precious.
When exposed to multiple languages, children learn effortlessly. Differences become second nature, curiosity about others develops healthily, and cultural celebrations take on a new significance.
If you’re raising a child in a household where one parent is monolingual, and the other is bilingual, remember that children associate languages with people.
Don’t hesitate to establish specific times in your home when one parent speaks to the child in the second language while the other parent uses the dominant language of the community.
During other times, the child can be exposed to books and cartoons in both languages. Remember that your child will not be confused by the two languages.
If both you and your partner are monolingual and wish to expose your child to multiple languages, the challenges may be different but not impossible to overcome
Did you or your partner study a language in school? This is an excellent time to brush up on your speaking skills! You can rely on outside sources such as TV, tablet, talking books, and bi-lingual playgroups.
Another valuable resource for helping your child with their language learning is to attend a Mommy and Me class. These classes are designed to help children develop language skills alongside their parents. You can attend these classes alongside your child’s grandpa, grandma, or other caregivers.
These classes are suitable for children aged eight weeks – 5 years and allow them to interact with peers of the same age while surrounded by their loved ones.
When seeking a Mommy and Me class, ensuring that it’s an interactive program is essential to achieve the best results. These classes can be both enjoyable and educational for children and effective whether conducted virtually or in person.
It’s been proven that running an instructional video for language learning is ineffective, but live online classes where everyone actively participates can be highly effective if the teacher conducts the class successfully.
Raising a bilingual child can be a rewarding experience, but it also requires much effort and patience. To help make the process easier, it’s essential to remember some key takeaways.
First, remember to associate each language with a specific person or community. For example, one parent might speak one language while the other speaks a different one, or your child might attend a bilingual school or spend time with relatives who speak another language.
By associating each language with a particular context, your child will be better able to differentiate between them and develop strong language skills.
Secondly, it’s important to remember that language learning is a time-consuming process that may take 2-3 years, depending on your child’s age and abilities.
Being patient is a must, as not putting too much pressure on your child. Instead, focus on making language learning fun and engaging using games, songs, and other activities.
Mommy and Me classes with The Language Learning Institute
To support your efforts in raising a bilingual child, consider connecting with other parents who share the same goal.
Mommy and Me language classes can be a great source of support and information, allowing you to share experiences and learn from others going through the same process.
If you found the information in this blog helpful and interesting, we encourage you to explore The Language Learning Institute’s Mommy and Me program, as well as our other children’s programs.
The Mommy and Me program is an excellent option for parents who want to start their child’s language learning journey early. The program is designed to be interactive and engaging, with activities that help young children learn new words and sounds in a fun and natural way.
At the Language Learning Institute, we’re also proud to offer a range of lessons and classes for adults and children of any skill level in French, Spanish, and English for Effective Communication.
Don’t hesitate to reach out to us with any questions. You can call us at 518-346-7096 or complete the Contact Us Form, and we will get back to you as soon as possible.