By Marie-Ange West, from our recruitment team.
If you want to give your baby the best start in life, start speaking to him or her in a second language, from birth.
Babies’ brains store the sounds they hear from birth, and their in-built mirror reflex means they will try to imitate them. And research shows the sooner you start, the better.
The Multilingual Children’s Association states:
“the ideal time to start multilingualism is even before your baby is born …he gains fundamental verbal skills long before he utters his first word.[…] the brain is « primed » the first three years of life with synapses at a peak, busily setting up the optimal neural pathways to mediate language. […] Even if you don’t start from birth, the earlier is truly easier for both you and your child. By the early teens, the baby’s special abilities are completely gone.”
Common myths about bilingualism in babies
My baby will be late speaking
Some people believe that a baby who starts learning two languages from birth will pronounce his or her first words later than other babies. Bilingualism isn’t responsible for the delay, however.
Dr Janet Werker of Vancouver’s University of British Colombia investigated the claims and found the opposite was true. Not only did bilingualism have no negative impact on language development, it actually increased auditory sensitivity and visual sensitivity.
My child may stammer
In the 1950s in the USA, bilingualism was blamed for stammering. However a book by Tracey Tokuhama-Espinosa explains that the myth was based on research by the US government carried out on immigrants who had poor English. The research was found to be flawed because the questions were designed in a way that created confusion and repetition in the participants.
My baby might get confused between the languages
Some babies, as soon as they start speaking their first words, naturally learn the difference between both languages and do not get mixed up. But more often than not, a little one who starts speaking will occasionally mix both languages in the same sentence. If this is the case with your new bundle of joy, don’t worry, they will quickly adapt the right words to the right people.
The advantages of bilingualism
A baby who learns several languages stimulates their brain without exerting any particular effort. Researchers have found that bilingual children have a more creative and flexible way of thinking.
Dr. Patricia Kuhl, co-director of the Institute for Learning and Brain Sciences at the University of Washington, says her research has found babies that are bilingual are “more cognitively flexible”.
Furthermore, Ellen Bialystok, research professor of psychology at York University in Toronto, found bilingual babies were more adept at learning different ways to solve logic problems or to handle multitasking, the brain’s “executive function”.
It may seem early to be thinking of education and career prospects when your little one is more likely to eat a pen than write with it.
However, in school, college, university and eventually in the work place, the languages that the child speaks fluently will set them at an advantage.
According to research by the National Centre for Languages showed that the mean salary of language graduates three years after finishing university is ahead of that of graduates of engineering, maths, physics and astronomy, and chemistry.
Often, if the baby speaks two languages it’s because their parents come from two different countries, and two different cultures. The bilingual child will develop an appreciation for different cultures, be more tolerant towards people from different backgrounds, and can develop better social skills as a result of this.
Francois Grosjean, Ph.D. in Life as a Bilingual has conducted significant research into bilingual subjects. He found they believe their bilingualism “fosters open-mindedness, offers different perspectives on life, and reduces cultural ignorance”.
In my experience, bilingual children tend to have more self-esteem and self-confidence.
Jonathan W Pesnerand Frank Auld from the University of Windsor, Canada, back up this view. They researched the link between self-esteem and bilingualism, and found a positive correlation, as well as a generally increased « social ease ».
Learning two languages from birth will be a positive experience for your child. This learning ability is said to diminish after the age of three, so my advice is to get started as soon as possible!
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