We’ve all seen it, tiny toddlers responding to multiple languages seemingly with ease. After picking your jaw up off the floor you can’t help but think how cool it is. Plenty of households raising their children bilingually, or even multi-lingually, either by choice or by necessity. Ambitious mamas itching to turn their toddler into a Polyglot Patty or Multilingual Mike should be aware of what to expect from their budding linguists.
You might think that all the different sounds and words will delay your child’s progress learning either language. Rest assured, she will meet major developmental language milestones around the same time as her monolingual peers. One delay that does happen is that vocabularies in both languages will build more slowly because she has to concentrate on the vocabularies of two languages instead of one. However, according to the American Academy of Family Physicians, she’ll become proficient in both languages before she reaches 5-years-old.
Two Isn’t Too Much
Contrary to popular belief, learning two languages (or more) won’t confuse your little one. According to the Center of Applied Linguistics, no research to support this common myth. Code switching, or when a child substitutes different words for each other, is said to be a sign that he is mastering both languages. One benefit of learning to stick to one language is that it improves his ability to focus his attention; and boy, can that come in handy when he’s ready to start school!
More Languages Doesn’t Make a Brainiac
Don’t expect that learning a second language will guarantee your toddler’s admission to an Ivy League school. The effects of being bilingual aren’t overarching and are rather very specific. For example, there’s no doubt that he will know more at a metalinguistic (thinking about language as a whole system) level. In other words, while some skills may be strengthened from knowing more than one language, there isn’t any proof that it’ll make him a virtuoso in everything.
Benefits to Bilingualism
The list goes on and on about the benefits of raising a child bilingually. For example, a 2012 study funded by the National Institutes of Health shows that a child raised bilingually can switch between tasks quicker than monolingual children. Also, the high level of awareness of sounds needed to communicate in both languages (phonological awareness) is a good predictor of her future reading ability. The easier it is for her to manipulate sounds the easier it is going to be to sound out words when reading. Finally, what reason would be better than purely knowing another language besides English: Imagine the international opportunities afforded to her by her multilingual skills.