bilingual babies project raising children resesarch
We always get asked if there’s a window of opportunity when it’s  the ideal age to raise bilingual kids.  There are actually several windows, or critical periods, for language learning when our brain is more adaptive to absorbing the new language(s), the broadest being from 0 to seven years of age, even before we learn to talk.

Bilingual Baby Project–a study presented by researchers of the University of Washington and the University of Texas at San Antonio–concluded that the earlier we start exposing babies to a second language, the more flexible their bilingual brains will be and the more they can identify and separate the sounds of the different languages they are exposed to.

The key, researchers say, is that during their first year of life, babies should be exposed through rich interactions to the two languages at home so their brains can absorb all the sounds and retain them by the time this first window starts to close once they turn one year old.  In fact, “the researchers also show that the relative amount of each language — English and Spanish — babies were exposed to affected their vocabulary as toddlers.”

This study is significant because it is the first one to measure brain activity in the first year of age and relate it directly to language learning in babies exposed to both English and Spanish at home.

Knowing this, we give you three strategies parents raising bilingual babies can use as soon as their child is born {or even in the womb!}:

1.  Habla, habla, habla! Researchers also found that exposure to the language does matter. Meaning, the more a baby hears the sounds of a particular language, the larger his vocabulary in it will be.  Talk to your baby all the time in Spanish, or your second language, even if you think she has no idea what you are saying; she’s absorbing every little sound and it will be the building blocks to her own speech acquisition.  Reading and singing in Spanish will also enrich their bilingual environment and get them used to hearing books and songs in Spanish.

You can also organize playdates with other Spanish-speaking amigas with babies so that your kids listen to the chatter in Spanish while you’re all entertained.

2. Have a plan, be consistent and stick to it.  The personal strategies parents adopt to raise their child bilingually are fundamental to creating a rich and consistent environment to learn multiple languages. As a couple, decide early on which of the proven methods to raise a bilingual child you will use in your home: Minority Language at Home{ml@h}, One Parent, One Language {OPOL}, or Time and Place.  Once you decide, have a game plan and stick to it to create familiarity and consistency in the baby’s environment. For example, if the dad will be the Spanish speaker, he will always be the Spanish speaker, sin excusas.

3.  Commit to your decision. The study also showed that the parents’ desires to raise bilingual children is of utmost importance.  Committing to the bilingual journey requires a real passion and desire to follow through. Be sure of what your reasons are and let that passion filter through your daily actions to ensure a fun and immersive bilingual home environment for your baby.

The research is clearly on our side, we really have no excuse to not promote bilingualism in our kids as soon as they are born. Just think about it, they have  no idea of the gift you are giving them and of the incredible ways it will manifest as benefits in their lives, and, the best part is they can’t even complain or argue against it yet.

I do need to add that even though this Bilingual Baby Project finds that the first year of age is the best time to start learning a second language, this in no way means it’s our only window of opportunity.  It is the first one and will set a solid base for a flexible brain, but children until the age of seven are clearly well suited, neurolagically speaking, to easily become fluently bi and multilingual.

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