Raising Bilingual Children

by sheilamarie

When children start life with two languages, they have an advantage right from the start.

Babies are all ears to the sounds in their world. When parents speak often to their baby, that baby will learn to repeat those same words back to the parents. If the baby hears more than one language, both of those languages will be familiar to him. In fact, in the first few years of life, a child will learn a second language in the same part of the brain as he or she learns the mother tongue.

A baby's early exposure to language is the key to becoming bilingual. The earlier a child hears the sounds distinctive to each language, the easier it will be for that child to understand and speak more than one language without an accent.

With each language a person can speak, a whole new world of thinking and words is opened up. Is your growing child exposed to more than one language? What a gift to give to your little one!

Learning Two Languages at the Same Time

Baby's Amazing Brain: Raising a Bilingual Child

Learning two languages is an easy thing to do -- if you are a baby! When a baby is immersed in a loving family where two languages are spoken, the baby has little trouble absorbing the sounds of both languages and keeping them separate in her mind. This is especially true when one parent speaks to the child in one language while the other parent speaks to her in the second language. 

This is how my granddaughters are being brought up, speaking English and French, and to watch the way they absorb the sounds and communicate in both languages amazes me! This isn't to say everything is perfect and they never make a mistake. They have their adorable mix-ups as any baby learning even one language will have. However, for every item in their world, they have two vocabulary words -- one English and one French. 

My son Aaron was born in Canada and grew up in both Quebec and Vermont. He learned French while still young and speaks with hardly an accent. He met his wife, Marianne, at College. 

When their first baby was born, Aaron and Marianne decided that Aaron would speak only English to the baby while Marianne would speak only French. That way there'd be a "Mommy language" and a "Daddy language."  

Because both parents are bilingual and their daughters know it, there have been some challenges keeping to the two languages rule, but in general, it is working out quite well. As a family, they can now flip back from one language to another without a problem. The girls are very aware, however, that their grandparents are not quite so lucky! They must feel they are much smarter than the older folks!

How Many Languages Do You Speak?

Are You Bilingual? Trilingual? Can You Carry on a Conversation in These Languages?

The Linguistic Genius of Babies: Raising a Bilingual Child Is Doable!

Patricia Kuhl

In the Video below, Patricia Kuhl shares the research that shows how raising bilingual child is not difficult if you start when they are newborn. She calls this the linguistic genius of babies. It's worth a watch as the studies done show the importance of face-to-face conversation between parents and baby right from the start. Patricia Kuhl also shows how a baby's brain is ready and eager to learn new languages, but that as the child grows, he is less and less able. Becoming bilingual is more difficult the older you start.

Take a moment and watch the findings about babies and language. You will be amazed at what is possible.

The Linguistic Genius of Babies

Patricia Kuhl

How a Baby Learns Language

At Birth a Baby Is Able to Learn Any Language of the World

Help Your Child Learn to Read
This lens talks about the importance of face-to-face conversation with your baby. There is no replacement for the personal touch!

Sign Language Is Another Language to Learn

Some Parents Teach Their Baby Sign Language

Learning sign language is another twist on raising bilingual children.

Right around the age of about seven or eight months when a baby knows what she wants to say, but can't yet use words clearly, a child can feel frustrated.

That is a good time to start using a few well chosen signs that will give the child the ability to communicate basic needs, such as "more," "hungry," "tired," etc. 

If you use some of these simple signs with your baby, your baby will mimic them back to you as their meaning becomes clear. Baby wants so much to communicate with you and for you to know what he or she means that using a few useful signs will help the child who cannot yet make the right sounds to feel less frustrated and more a part of the conversation.

Rather than holding a child back from learning the words, this experience with signs can actually motivate the child to go further with communication. After all, it works when you get your meaning across!

Learning to Speak Sign Language

Using the Hands to Convey Meaning
Class of Young Women Learning Sign Language at a School for the Deaf

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Do You Have Experience as a Bilingual Child?

Did You Struggle Trying to Learn a Second Language in High School?

In the comment section below, please share your experience with language. Did you grow up in a homogenous community where everyone spoke English? 

Were there people in your neighborhood whose first language was another language besides English?

Did one or both of your parents speak another language?

Share Your Ideas on Wizzley


Updated: 09/10/2015, sheilamarie
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sheilamarie on 08/10/2012

Thanks, Mira, I'm glad you liked it. When we are aware of how we learn a language, we can make better choices about such things as when to introduce a second language in schools or how to deal with raising a family when living in a new country or when one parent speaks a different language from the local one.

Mira on 08/10/2012

Hi sheilamarie, what a nice article. Even as I knew it's recommended you expose a child to a second language as early as possible, I didn't know that for babies language processing happens in the same part of the brain they use to learn their mother tongue. I also enjoyed the video about how children "take statistics" of various sounds in a language, and how they learn from another human being: not from audio, not from video -- how fascinating. And when you think about it, even later in life it's interaction that gives you a better facility with a language. Thank you for the article! :-)

sheilamarie on 03/06/2012

Thanks for all the wonderful comments! Your little ones are being given such a precious gift, Brenda, Amelie, Peggy, and Jimmie. Spirituality, you are right that in Europe and in many other places in the world, learning more than one language is standard, as there are so many people speaking different languages who live so close together. Here in North America we have a harder time learning another language because there are seldom real people who speak the language we're trying to learn. Of course, this isn't always true, especially where there are lots of immigrants. Generally, though, most of us grow up speaking only English.
Having more than one language helps your mind be more flexible.

BrendaReeves on 03/06/2012

Both my daughter and daughter-in-law are speech pathologists. My daughters husband is from Thailand. Their kids are learning both languages.

spirituality on 06/21/2011

I'm fluent in Dutch and English, can hold a conversation in German and - if the person I'm talking with is patient - in French. The first two are due to me being Dutch and having lived in the USA for a year when I was 12. The rest is due to the Dutch educational system. German was one of the languages I graduated in. I had French lessons in school for four years. All standard stuff for us here.

SquidRich on 06/17/2011

I started learning a second language when I was around 8-years-old. Even that was not early enough, but it really does help getting to grasps with the basics at a young age.

ameliejean on 06/14/2011

This is interesting. My children will be bilingual since we are English but live in Spain.

PeggyHazelwood on 06/13/2011

I only speak English but my son and his wife are teaching my two grandkids Chinese and they take lessons. You're right that the younger a child is the better they absorb a new language.

Jimmie on 06/12/2011

I come from a monolingual environment, but my daughter was raised abroad. Therefore she is bilingual. It is a wonderful ability.

mbgphoto on 06/12/2011

Very interesting.

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