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Bilingual Babies, Everything you need to know

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Last Updated on December 19, 2023 by Bilingual Kidspot

Everything you need to know about bilingual babies

Can I raise a bilingual baby? When will my bilingual baby start talking? Do bilingual babies talk later? Should I wait to introduce a second language to my baby?

These are common questions multilingual parents ask themselves when expecting a child

In this post, we go through everything you need to know about bilingual babies and how they can distinguish languages from birth.

Babies can be bilingual from birth

Did you know that you can have a bilingual baby from birth? That even before they start to talk, babies are absorbing everything, including languages.

Babies, with their innate curiosity and remarkable ability to absorb the world around them, are fascinating linguistic learners. When raised in bilingual environments, they embark on an extraordinary journey of language development, showcasing a rang of skills that shed light on the wonders of the human brain.

The easiest way to raise your kids bilingually is to introduce languages to them early, when they are a baby if possible.

Patricia Kuhl, a renowned developmental psychologist, delved into this topic in her informative TED Talk. Kuhl’s studies on language acquisition in infants unveiled the incredible capacity of babies to differentiate between languages from an early age.

What research says about Bilingual Babies

Research shows that all babies have the potential to be bilingual, or even multilingual. Newborns are already able to understand the difference between their native language and a foreign language.

But how are babies able to learn these languages? And how are they able to learn two, or even three at once being so young?

Well, babies are born to learn languages!

In fact studies show, that babies have the potential to learn any language or languages from birth. So yes, you can have a bilingual baby!

Bilingual Babies can discriminate sounds and languages

Babies begin their linguistic journey in the womb, where they are exposed to the sound and rhythm of their parents’ speech. However, it’s after birth that their language learning truly blossoms.

In the TED Talk below, Patricia Kuhl Director of the University of Washington’s NSF Science of Learning Center, talks about a study on bilingual babies and how babies acquire languages.

Her research found that contrary to the belief that bilingual exposure might confuse infants, babies are able to discriminate between all sounds and all languages in the world.

But that after a baby’s first birthday, that ability diminishes, showing us that the earlier a child is exposed to a language the better.

Kuhl explains how that long before they can talk, babies are listening to languages they are taking “statistics”.

Every language has it’s own set of statistics, different tones and sounds. When babies are hearing two different languages, they take in two sets of statistics.  

As we get older it gets harder to take these statistics, which explains why it is more difficult to learn languages as later on.

Recommended: Bilingual Baby Names

Babies need human interaction to learn languages

One important point to take note of, is that it takes a human being for children to learn a language. In the study they tested three different groups of babies. One group with a real person, one with a TV and sound, and another with only sound.

Results showed that only the babies who were exposed to a language through a real person, were able to take these “statistics”. There was absolutely no learning of any language when the babies were exposed to the TV or only sound.

In other words if you want a bilingual baby, you need to expose them to human interaction using both languages.

TED Talk Patricia Kuhl: The linguistic genius of babies

See original video here

Do Bilingual Babies Speak Later?

There is no reason for bilingual babies to talk later than monolingual babies. Yes, they are learning two languages at once, but there is no research that suggests bilingual kids will have a speech or language delay.

Babies are born with the ability to distinguish languages. They are also born with the ability to produce all the sounds of the world’s languages.

So, any baby is born to speak any language, or multiple languages with enough exposure.

What if my baby isn’t talking?

First of all, it is important to know that all children are different, and therefore develop differently. Some babies may walk earlier than others. Some may roll over before others. Some may be saying their first words before 12 months old, and some might do anything but babble until 18 months.

In our post about LATE TALKERS, you will find that children who talk late, will do so in each language they speak. So even if they were monolingual, they would still be a late talker.

If your baby isn’t talking yet, there could be a number of reasons. Take a look at our post on Language Development for Bilingual Kids for more information.

All babies and children develop their languages differently

We know that all children develop their language abilities differently, and speak at different ages. Some children will speak earlier, while others will start to speak later. Children who speak later are still soaking everything in, and taking in these “statistics” for when they do start to talk.

As parents raising bilingual children, fostering language development involves consistent exposure to both languages. If you want to raise a bilingual child, the key is to start young.

While children can still learn languages at any age, by introducing languages early on, bilingual babies have the best chance at becoming bilingual kids and then bilingual adults later on.

Supporting Bilingual Development in Babies and Kids

Engaging in activities such as reading, singing, and storytelling in both languages contributes significantly to language development. Moreover, encouraging interactions with native speakers of each language provides babies with diverse linguistic experiences, enriching their language skills further.

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