Tag Archives: bilingual children

Speaking and Hearing Two or More Languages in Childhood is a Gift, not a Hindrance

There appears to be a ‘window’ of learning language that ‘opens’ at about the age of ten months. Infants can hear much earlier, of course, and there is some evidence that they can even hear in the womb. It is clear that they will begin to imitate the ‘noises’ they hear, and when there is a reaction from those surrounding them. They begin to associate meanings with the sounds. Over the next two years, infants acquire language at an astonishing rate. By the age of three, they have acquired basic syntax (sentence structure), basic grammar (the ‘rules’ of the language), and a large vocabulary of basic words necessary to their physical and emotional survival. Their motivation to communicate and talk is high: asking for something usually results in being given the thing they need. Similarly, when the infant begins to play outside, with other children, then the motivation to talk to these children is high, and the infant will try to learn the language of play.

THE IMPORTANT THING TO REMEMBER IS THAT EACH CHILD IS AN INDIVIDUAL, and that each child will learn when they are ready to learn. If you think your child is ‘late’ learning to talk, be sure you have ruled out all possible physical causes and then just wait. Especially if there is more than one language in the baby’s home environment, then the baby will be learning first to process and separate the different languages, before talking begins. This ‘separating the languages process’ is why it is important that each parent speaks only their mother-tongue to the baby. They can speak a third language among themselves if they want the baby to hear and become familiar with that language as well, but it is important that the baby hears native-speaker sounds if you want the baby to make native-speaker sounds.

In the Western world, there are speech therapists and medical doctors who advise parents of young children growing up with more than one language to stop using one of those languages with their children. The language usually told to be stopped being used is the ‘weaker’ language, the one not being used in the overall environment. E.g. in England any other language apart from English may be advised to be stopped altogether.

The top reason for this is because according to some, hearing 2+ languages confuse a child, and result in dire difficulties in learning language at all. The other top reason is that apparently learning the ‘main’ language of where one lives is easier without competition from learning a second language.

However, to date there is NO evidence, scientific or other, that hearing two or more languages leads to delays or disorders in language attainment. Countless children world wide learn more than one language from birth and don’t show any of the ‘side effects’ which apparently come with learning 2+ languages. This is visible proof that there is no causal relationship between learning more than one language and language learning problems.

Part II – Speaking and Hearing Two or More Languages in Childhood is a Gift, not a Hindrance part II

Speaking and Hearing Two or More Languages in Childhood is a Gift, not a Hindrance part II

I am bilingual. My mum is German, my dad is English. I was born in Germany. I learned English first, as this was the ‘weaker’ language, because the only people speaking English with me were those in my family. Why is it the weaker language? Because I know from personal experience that I picked up German off all the other people in my environment who spoke German just like that. My mum has 5 children, and we are are ALL bilingual. My aunties 4 children are also bilingual. I have never had a problem speaking, and writing, in two languages. It is a gift that us bilingual parents can pass onto our children – our 10 year old daughter and 2 year old son are also bilingual.

We live in England and I speak German nearly all the time with our 2. Home ed stuff we do in English though. We also spend time with other German speaking relatives and take full advantage of talking German with them. We have also been to Germany many times. It’s such a bonus for the kids being able to interact with lots of German and learning new words.

So from personal experience, it DOES work. Also, children aren’t negative! They wont say ‘oh I cant speak 2 languages, its far too hard’. They are like little sponges and LOVE learning new words. Its so much fun. Its such a bonus to know 2 (or more) languages, especially in this day and age where the world appears to get smaller all the time!

There is NO scientific or other evidence even slightly hinting that stopping one language has a beneficial effect on the other (language). In fact, abruptly ending a language often paves the way to great emotional and psychological difficulties both for the parents and for the child. Language is strongly linked to emotion, affect, and identity. E.g. a young child whose parents suddenly cut off the language familiar to them, especially if the parents don’t respond to the child when they talk in the familiar language, will almost without a doubt make the child feel emotionally abandoned and lost. Can you imagine the childs feelings when they are blatantly being ignored by their parents? It must be traumatizing. Thus, speech therapists shouldn’t be surprised ONE BIT to see the child displaying troubling behaviour. If the child recovers from this trauma, there is NO evidence WHATSOEVER that progress in the main language being used in the environment is helped by the loss of the home language.

for part I… Speaking and Hearing Two or More Languages in Childhood is a Gift, not a Hindrance


What Bilingual Babies Reveal About the Brain: Q&A with Psychologist Janet Werker

Raising bilingual children

MYTHS – Multilingual Children – People are well-meaning, but they often operate from their beliefs rather than the facts. When you talk about raising a multilingual child, you will no doubt hear some of these myths and misconceptions.

Extending Children’s Vocabulary with Picture Books and Stories

Raising Children Bilingually

Raising Children Bilingually

Parents who can speak more than one language are generally keen to share these with their children. These parents frequently have questions about how second language learning affects reading ability, social skills, and scholastic achievement. Whether or not being able to speak more than one language themselves, many wonder how best to help their children learn more than one language.

Research suggests children who learn a second language are more creative and better at solving complex problems than those who do not. Studies have shown that bilinguals outperform similar peers speaking one language on both verbal and nonverbal tests, and tend to achieve higher mark on standardised exams.

Individuals who are able to speak more than one language have the ability to communicate with more people, read more literature, and benefit more fully from travel abroad. A second language gives people an advantage in the workforce. These are just some of the reasons for parents to encourage the development of a second, or more, language with their children.

Below is some advice regarding the learning of more than one language at a time

* If a child was spoken to in up to 5 different languages, by the same amount of people, each particular person in their particular language only, a child would easily learn all of them, and with hardly any effort. There is no such thing as CANT in their vocabulary yet, they aren’t negative and wont say for instance ‘I cant learn all these languages, its far too hard for me!‘. This is possible only in the first years of life.

* The language must be used in a child’s environment in the first years of their life. One or more people should speak the ‘extra’ language to/with the child, and also in front of them with others (if possible)

* In Japan a course was developed that entailed playing English-language tapes 3 times a day to infants from birth to the age of six months. Between the age of 3-5 if the children have an English teacher, they learn English more easily than other children.

Getting Kids Interested in Reading

Children will benefit greatly from parents or siblings, other family members or even friends reading to them. For us as parents this is not only a special, warm, close time together, it can also be very relaxing. We have a 10 year old daughter and 2 year old son. When Inky was a toddler I used to let her pick 2 books of her choice to read in the evening, in bed. Each book would take about 5 minutes and we always had a little laugh before going to sleep, leaving us both feeling happy and content. It always rounded the day off nicely. On top of that its so cosy being snuggled up with your ‘little’ person under a warm duvet….
I’d also like to add that being a bilingual family the books Inky chose from were German. We’d read English books when out and about/at friends houses. Bri our 2 year old isn’t that interested in story books yet. So once or twice a week I pick up a book and start reading it to him (again, a short, simple, colourfully illustrated book), but he loses interest pretty quick.

One of teh things about home ed that I love is that its NOT a race, there is no pressure and when the student is ready…. Inky couldn’t read by herself until she was 7.  Her desire to read came from being read to literally every day from when she was interested.As she got older I would read longer stories to her, tracing the lines I was reading with my finger. She just suddenly got it. I can’t explain the mechanisms behind it, it was like magic. One day she picked up a book and said ‘Mummy, mummy I can read!!!’. Happy tears 😉 Her writing also snow balled from here on, no pressure no demands. I’m looking forward to doing it all over again with Bri.


*Let you child have free access to a book shelf full of captivating, colourful book.
* If your child is not interested in reading, use your child’s interests to coax them into reading. – the range is obviously endless.

* Read about a chapters worth daily, age dependent.

* Perhaps read at the same time each day if your child’s keenness doesn’t increase, then it may be less of a fight.

* If your child shows great interest, and you can fit it in, you could even read some in the morning and then before bed time.

* Choose a place to read where your child feels comfy. In the evening’s, this could be in bed, or curled up on your lap. Especially if it’s a colourful book. Other options, on the floor, sofa, bean-bag, kitchen, in a play tent, on a porch swing, in a hammock….whatever this special spot is, your child will soon associate this place with reading.

* Don’t expect or demand your child’s undivided attention – of course it would be perfect if they hung on your every word, and of course you don’t want the TV on or playing on a computer. HOWEVER, if it helps your child to listen, let them play close by or cuddle up in a blanket.

* Be enthusiastic

* Use different voices for different characters, as well as changing facial expressions – bring the story alive… by doing this it will be so much easier to capture your child’s attention and imagination

* If your child is old enough to read, take it in turns to read. You could do this by the sentence, paragraph or page. Of course then you must only use material they will be able to read themselves…

* Once your child is old enough for longer books, and you aren’t reading the same picture story books over and over again, start keeping a chart of which books you read and how much your child enjoyed each one. Write daily how many pages were read,

* As well as your special reading time together, also read alone, so your child can see that you enjoy reading and that it is an amazing experience

* If there are words that your child doesn’t know, ask them what they think it means. Then explain what it does mean.

* Get your child to guess what will happen next in the story.

* Ask them how they think characters are feeling.

* If something in the story has occurred to you and/or your child or someone you know in the story discuss it.

* Every book should be a happy, fun, unique experience….

related reading Extending childrens vocabulary with picture books and stories

Extending Children’s Vocabulary with Picture Books and Stories

Pictures & Books

Once a child has learned names for all the ‘real’, solid objects in their environment, their vocabulary can be extended with pictures. Kids LOVE picture books and as they get older flash cards with writing. These are excellent educational materials for children at home, from a young age.

The books being used are important, just like the toys. Children will have their favourite book/s which they will want to look at over and over again with you or alone. Read the book as often as the child likes (and you have time for!), point at all the pictures, describe what is happening. As your child gains confidence, name objects and ask your child to find them. My now 10 year old daughter had her favourite books, and now my 22 month old son Bri also does. I shall use my daughter Inky as an example here – when I first started looking at books with her, she listened and looked at the pictures being pointed out and described to her. Eventually she pointed to the pictures and with the vocabulary she had named all the things she knew. This led on to adding words in like ‘the’, and then on to colours and full sentences. Other times, she would just sit quietly and listen and we would ask her to point things out, like where is the cat? What does the girl wear on her feet? What is in the bag? Etc.  It was so much fun, not just for her, but for all who read with her. The best part is getting to do it all over again with my little boy Bri 🙂 and his sister looks at books with him all the time. I’d like to add that I am German and we do this in German also. Inky is flawlessly bilingual and Bri is getting there too.

In general kids will sit captivated when we read to them, the length of time increasing with age. This gives us a chance to instil a love for literature and of reading, to teach facts, values, and the pronunciation of words (the younger they are the more they stare at your mouth forming words and try to copy), even those not used all the time. You should endeavour to provide books that show different cultures, and do not stereotype situations and people. The language of the book should show respect for the child, his intelligence and his emotions.

Be choosy, even simple vocabulary books can be over-crowded with lots of pictures crammed in, full of glaring colours. These can over-stimulate children. It is much better to have few beautiful books to be cherished and respected, than to have heaps which don’t do the developing mind of a young child justice. Have a book rack or some other easily accessible place to keep books, so the child can always find the one they desire, can look after them and tidy away themselves.

I read somewhere that at a young age books should be grounded in reality because children wish to learn about the real world, and that this is the best way to prepare children for a creative imagination. Fantasy is very enjoyable to the older children, but very confusing to very young children. In our experience it was never confusing to have a wide selection of both ‘real’ books and fantasy books…

Imagination or Lying?

How do you differentiate? For children under 5 or so there is no difference. Around age 5-7 children become more interested in fairness, morals, the truth and will explore such concepts in depth. For the first 5 years, children trying to communicate should not be interrupted with questions about truth.

When a child tells a story that starts out based on reality and turns into fantasy, say something like, ’you have excellent imagination,’ or ’what a lovely story’. This warrants children’s use of vocabulary, verbal skill, imagination, and at the same time introduce concepts such as imagination and story, which will help them in their own time sort out the difference between imagination and lying.

Most importantly, remember to follow the child’s interests, and to keep learning natural and fun.

Related link – Extending Children’s Vocabulary with Picture Books and Stories