Did you know that your baby was born with the extraordinary ability to hear all of the different tones and speech sounds from ALL languages in the world? Yes, you read that right: ALL languages in the world. So for babies, no language is considered “foreign.” But, similar to other brain connections, your baby must either “use it or lose it” in order to continue her ability to hear and differentiate the various sounds of different languages.1
At 6-9 months old, your baby will begin to lose her ability to pick up the sounds of all languages in order to focus on learning the specific tones and sounds of her native language,2 whether it be English, Spanish, German, French, or Vietnamese. With her growing verbal communication skills, you will now hear her babble the sounds and rhythms of your native language more often.3 To help your child build these expressive language skills, be sure to speak and sing to her in your native tongue at every opportunity!
What about dual language development? Is infancy a good time to expose babies to multiple languages? Absolutely! Research shows that not only are babies able to learn multiple languages easily, but they also become better language decoders by training their ears to differentiate speech sounds.4
But what if you haven’t enrolled your baby into a bilingual language program yet? Has she lost her window of opportunity? Not at all. If you haven’t exposed your baby to more than one language yet, don’t worry. Young children’s ability to learn new languages remain rather easy for them into their early school years!5
1 Moskowitz, Clara (2011). What Bilingual Babies Reveal about the Brain: Q&A with Psychologist Janet Werker. Live Science. Retrieved from http://www.livescience.com/13016-bilingual-babies-brain-language-learning.html.
2 National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (2010). Speech and Language Developmental Milestones. National Institutes on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, National Institutes of Health. Retrieved from http://www.nidcd.nih.gov/health/voice/pages/speechandlanguage.aspx.
3 Dehaene-Lambertz, G., and Gliga, T. (2004). Common Neural Basis for Phoneme Processing in Infants and Adults. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 16 (8). Retrieved from http://www.unicog.org/bblab/liens/dehaenegliga-phonemes-jocn2004.pdf.
4 Armes, Cory (2011). Bilingual Babies: Language Delay or Learning Advantage? Scientific Learning: The Science of Learning Blog. Retrieved from http://www.scilearn.com/blog/bilingual-babies-cognitive-skills.php.
5 Bongaerts, Theo (2005). Introduction: Ultimate attainment and the critical period hypothesis for second language acquisition. International Review of Applied Linguistics in Language Teaching, 43(4).