Bilingual Babies – Does It Affect Development?

by | Feb 28, 2023 | News

If you speak a different language at home than English, you’re not alone. More than 12 million kids in the U.S. are exposed to multiple languages as they grow up. As a parent, it’s normal for you to have questions about speech development in a bilingual environment. This helpful guide can show you what to expect and how to enhance your little one’s language learning.

Does Being Bilingual Affect Your Baby’s Speech Development?

Hearing more than one language can affect your child’s mental development, but this effect is positive, not negative. Contrary to what you may think — or what well-meaning family members tell you — bilingual learning doesn’t confuse kids or get in the way of healthy communication skills.

According to a recent study from Princeton University, babies as young as 20 months can already juggle two languages effectively. For kids under age three, picking up several languages simultaneously requires little effort.

Does It Take Longer for Bilingual Babies To Start Speaking?

According to the U.S. Office of Head Start, infants who learn two languages reach speech development milestones at the same pace as kids learning a single language. There’s no difference when it comes to making sentences, pronouncing words or identifying vocabulary. Of course, every baby is unique, so your child may start speaking earlier or later than others.

Do Children Understand the Differences Between Words?

One astonishing fact is that bilingual children do more than remember the names of objects in multiple languages. They also understand that both words belong to different languages. For example, babies know that “cat” and “gato” both describe the same animal, but one word is English and the other is Spanish.

Does Mixing Languages Mean Kids Are Confused?

When kids use a few words from a second language in a sentence, it’s called code-mixing. If you’re worried that your child is having learning difficulties, there’s no reason for alarm. In reality, code mixing is natural for anyone who is bilingual. Here are a few reasons why it happens:

  • Sign of mental flexibility and language proficiency
  • Option to emphasize strong emotions
  • Way to adapt to other speakers
  • Method of “filling in the blanks” when they haven’t learned a new word yet

Code mixing means your little one understands important concepts in both languages. It’s a good sign for language development.

Do You Have To Stop Speaking Your Native Language at Home for Your Child To Learn a Second Language?

Some moms and dads think they have to stick to a one-language-per-parent approach at home to avoid confusing kids. This isn’t necessary. A child’s developing brain can handle both languages easily, absorbing all the information it receives and sorting the concepts into different language groups automatically.

Why Promote Bilingual Learning?

Speaking more than one language can provide many benefits for children, promoting memory abilities, mental focus, problem-solving and self-control. The key is to take advantage of the enhanced learning that babies enjoy from zero to three years of age. Even babies who only hear Spanish at home can pick up English elsewhere.

The licensed speech and language pathologists at HEAR Center provide play-based speech therapy for children. They can help with bilingual education, social skills, fluency, speech development and other goals. Schedule an appointment right away.

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