Babies of Bilingual Parents: How Young is Good for a New Language?

For centuries, knowing other languages was reserved for aristocrats, the richer families, the ones who had a chance to enroll in educational institutions. But for the generation of younger millennials knowing or actively speaking not two, but three languages is not something uncommon. Looking at the latest survey by Preply, results have shown that at least 17.5% of adults in the UK are bilingual. But what does bilingual actually mean? Being bilingual means being able to speak two languages fluently. The origin of the word comes from Latin, where ‘bi’ stands for two and ‘lingua’ for tongue. The globalization, massive migrations and cross-culture marriages created a wider world of babies with bilingual parents. Today it is not a choice but a consequence for kids of bilingual parents to be learning two languages starting from birth and to be fluent in both before school age.

Bilingual Parents & Bilingual Kids

“How many languages do you know – that many times you are a human being.” (Anton Chekhov)

There are many famous sayings relating to this matter, yet it is not an easy task for everyone to learn a second language; even if it’s necessary for their education or work.

However, kids of the new generation are lucky to be born into families with bilingual parents or even multilingual parents.

The environment of being exposed to various languages 24/7 plays an immense role in fast learning. This becomes a natural process for the kids, who, after the age of two or three, start to question the words that belong to “the other group.” For instance, if one parent is a native French speaker and the other is a native Dutch speaker. Babies with bilingual parents, when they grow up, start to communicate with their parents in their respective languages. The parents themselves are the first and biggest resources for the child.

Some of the important resources for bilingual parents are cartoons and educational programs for the little ones. They are great for toddlers and smaller children because they absorb all the information as if they are sponges. If you want to improve your baby’s motor skills, of course, it is recommended to limit the screen time since they start to show negative side effects such as: diminishing of the ability to concentrate at one thing for a longer period and delay in forming nice motor skills and cognitive skills. Some people try to justify the screen time by saying that children learn the best by hearing the extra emphasis put onto the words on the screen. But if you do not think you have the time, or do not trust your teaching capability, it is better to hire someone instead of implementing excess screen time. Still, even hiring someone is not essential. Being bilingual yourself is an advantage that you should not be putting aside. With some tips for bilingual parents, you can give your child a great cornerstone for their further language learning. Simply by closure, singing lullabies or reading a children’s book in your native language on a daily basis can provide you and your child with some quality time while teaching, and learning a new language.

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 When To Start Explaining the Differences Between Languages?

For kids who are not born into families where several languages are used on a daily basis, or to families that stay abroad and still use their homeland’s official language mostly, it is recommended to not put pressure on kids and set them free from focus on serious language learning at least until the age of 5 or 6. Some psychologists put this barrier even up to the age of 7, while many experts still let it be the family’s choice and point out that there is no harm in bringing up new knowledge of any kind even at the age of 2 or 3.

Children learn very easily. Through play and interactivity, it is easy to introduce new things to them. By the time they start spending time in places that speak the second language that they are currently learning, just being there stirs their imagination and even if it seems like they are a bit lost they look for the ways of how to form new bonds. They may talk in funny and mixed-up ways at first. But eventually they figure out how to find a line of intersection and then relaxation comes along.

Sometimes, bilingual parents try to postpone the process of learning a new language for the child. They get tired and frustrated after always trying to switch up between languages, also fearing that the child might experience the same frustration or never learn the differences between the languages. But as said before, babies and children are sponges when it comes to learning. Not everyone around you will be speaking the same two languages. Your child will learn the difference by trial and error while trying to communicate with others. Since a supervisor, either you or a caretaker, will be around at all times, the risk of not getting their needs met is not there.

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 Which One Is the Native Language for Bilingual Children?

No matter how good the parents are in both languages that they use to communicate with the child, there is no specific scale or a weighing machine that counts how many words were spoken during the day in one or the other language. So, with time, the child will adopt the language that comes closer to their personality as their native language. And maybe, at an older age, they will point out why they like to express themselves more in that language. This could also depend on the language and not only on the person. Since it’s generally known that some languages sound quite cold, a kid who has parents that regularly talk with them in one more language, can choose that second language to be for instance the language of the emotions, the language they will lean on when they are revolted or in some trouble. Yet, when we sound, we should also note how important its role in learning another language. If you want your baby to be bilingual starting from the womb we recommend music for pregnancy and songs in your target language.

Do Bilingual Parents Face Difficulties in Teaching Children Various Languages?

Choosing the right moment to introduce a new language for bilingual parents, and also ways to teach your own knowledge to your kids are two things that, sadly, do not come with a manual. So, it is a matter of experimentation, gauging your child’s improvement in accordance with their enthusiasm and lots of encouragement.

When you help your child start off the adventure of learning a new language, try to avoid forcing expectations and specific standards on them. They could easily get overwhelmed. Keep going with the process as long as you see that your child is doing fine, and things are not burdensome for them. Obviously, you will face difficulties, and you might feel unaccomplished even if there is visibly extreme success. You wish to keep doing everything right for the one closest to your heart. Starting early is important for you, because when school starts there will not be much time for your child to focus on their second language. The skill of easy acquisition of a language is also lost rather early- between the ages of 8 and 12,- so you might be worried about it as well.

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Thus, thinking of time as the biggest resource for the child and the parent, it is not harmful to start at an early age. Especially if you are a bilingual parent, or bilingual parents, you have the natural suitability for being the best language teacher for your child.

Kindergartens – Adequate Places for Proper Language Learning

And while many parents place their children to kindergartens and daycares only because of their full-time work, many other parents who work remotely or have flexible hours choose these institutions as partners which will help their little ones to socialize or, in some cases, to learn languages as well.

Many private daycares have fully developed systems of workers that include foreign language teachers and care providers. Care providers who have obtained their degrees from some of the best universities try to enforce all positive techniques on the kids. They are one of the best stimuli sources after the parents for kids to nourish their bilingual brains.

If opportunities allow, except for a kindergarten, you can hire a person who speaks both languages for further assistance.

A Summary

Overall, the best thing you can do for your child as bilingual parents is to let them go at their own pace. Depending on the language of the country you live in, you might adjust the exposure of the other language at home, so that they can go hand in hand. Focus on including the languages into your quality time activities. Sprinkle them here and there instead of trying to follow a rigid structure and try to keep your baby interested. Show them that it is completely normal, and there is no need for their little process to be overwhelming. More importantly, remember that your baby is not there to learn the language, but the language is there to be learned by them.