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Bilingual Babies: Ted Talk Patricia Kuhl


Yes, You Can Have a Bilingual Baby

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

Patricia Kuhl explains everything you need to know about bilingual babies in the  Ted talk further down.

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!

Before a baby’s first birthday is best

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 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

My Bilingual Baby

I will never forget the moment I realised I had a bilingual baby! He was seven months old and learning to clap his hands. We had been imitating for a while and he finally got it. He started clapping his hands.

My husband and I were a little confused. We didn’t know who he actually understood, because we were both talking to him in our own native languages.

My husband was saying “batti le manini” in Italian, and I was saying “clap your hands” in English. We thought that maybe he just liked to clap and didn’t understand either of us. So, we decided to test it out.

Over the course of the next days, and weeks, we experimented asking him at random times to clap his hands in our own languages (without actually clapping ourselves), and we realised that he understood both of us. He clapped his hands when prompted to do so in both languages.

We were completely amazed. We had a bilingual baby!

Being excited, it motivated us even more to talk to our baby as much as possible and teach him as much as we could. Other than “Mamma” and “Papà”, he didn’t say his first real words until he was around ten months old. However, he continued to show many signs that he could understand a lot in both languages before that.

We followed the OPOL approach. I spoke only English and my husband spoke only Italian, we never mixed even when speaking together. By the time our son was a year and a half old he could follow directions in each language, and speak short simple sentences in both English and Italian.  He had no problem distinguishing between the two languages, and even though he mixed languages a lot when he talked, he was already bilingual.

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.

If you want a bilingual baby start young. While children can still learn languages at any age, by introducing languages early on, bilingual babies have the best chance at bilingual kids and then bilingual adults later on!

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  1. Eddynson

    I cannot wait to hear my baby’s first words in English! Her granny and her mom both speak English to her, while try my best with English!

  2. Interesting and informative post!

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