The Benefits of Foreign Language for Babies

Everyone says it and you’ve probably already experienced it:  Babies and toddlers are like sponges.  They soak up the world around them and are eager to learn.  So then what better time to introduce a foreign language?

Many parents are concerned that a foreign language will interrupt primary language development, but studies indicate that the opposite is true.  And the benefits for your baby are enormous.

The Benefits of Foreign Language for BabiesThe human brain is hard-wired to learn multiple languages during the window between birth and age five.  Before babies even begin to speak, they are learning by listening to everyone talking around them.  They are not only listening for individual words, but also accents, inflection, patterns, sounds, rhythm and pronunciation.  While languages can be learned at any age, the most advantageous time is when children are young and can process these cues as their brains are developing.  In fact, even in infancy, babies are able to discern their native language from a foreign language.  After age five, children have a harder time determining subtle language sounds and phonetic pronunciations, and lose the ability to pick up a new language quickly.

The thought of having a bilingual child may be very appealing, but beyond the dual languages your child may eventually be able to speak, there are tremendous cognitive and social benefits of foreign language for babies as well.

Research indicates that most babies who learn two languages at once are learning both languages at the same pace as babies only learning one language.  Because they are learning dual speech patterns and words, they become more flexible learners overall.  Brain power also increases as babies expand their knowledge through language.  Children who are bilingual tend to score higher on IQ tests and perform better in academics.  They are also better able to grasp additional languages in the future.  Plus, the primary language doesn’t suffer from introducing a second language.

Learning a foreign language encourages global awareness and cultural curiosity as well.  As you child grows, he will want to converse with people in his second language.  He’ll want to know where they come from, what their families are like and other interesting things about their culture.  This creates a student of the world – One who has an international and social understanding well beyond just his lifestyle.

If your family is bilingual or members of the household speak different languages, you’re at an advantage.  Just like a native language, foreign language is learned through daily repetition and exposure.  So speaking, reading, signing and eventually watching TV in a foreign language will help your child learn.

For families that only speak one language in a household, there are many ways to expose your baby to foreign language.  If your family decides to pursue another language for your children, pick one that you may hear in your daily lives, such as one that a relative, friend or neighbor may speak. You can also learn a new language along with your baby.  As you start teaching your baby simple words in your primary language – ball, chair, hat – you can repeat these words in a second language to reinforce that there are different words for the same object.  As your baby’s vocabulary expands, yours will too.

There are plenty of books, toys and CDs you can buy to reinforce a second language too.  Much like all infant and toddler learning, learning a language should be done in a fun and casual environment.  At this young age, the traditional methods of reading, writing, and grammar are not necessary.  Many preschools now offer bilingual or language immersion programs, or classes that you and your baby can take together.

So go on, create a citizen of the world.  Whether he learns to speak a second language fluently or simply expands his learning potential, there are many benefits of foreign language for babies.