Ask Reading Kingdom: Is it good to teach a baby several languages?


Christine (Parent) asks:

Is it good to teach a baby several languages in the language acquisition stage?

Dr. Marion Blank (Founder of Reading Kingdom) answers:

The question is an excellent one and the answer is a clear “yes”—albeit with one qualification. The “baby” or young child should not be experiencing language difficulties in his or her native language. In other words, for children with language problems, the learning of a second language further interferes with their language development and both languages suffer. But when that is not the case, and a child is mastering language effectively, the learning of a foreign language at a young age is ideal.

As but one example, if an individual learns a second language in adolescence and even becomes really proficient in the language, he or she is still likely to speak it with a foreign accent. That is not the case when young children learn a foreign language. I have had the privilege of seeing young children (i.e., children under five years) learn 4 or 5 languages and speak each one as if it were their native language. In other words, certain abilities diminish as an individual matures.  The period of phenomenal growth in language is generally from one to five years of age and it seems that additional languages can be mastered easily during this period.

There are many benefits to the mastery of additional languages. Of course, given the global marketplace of today’s world, additional languages can be key to job opportunities. But the benefits extend far beyond success in work. Studies have shown that foreign language learning increases critical thinking skills, creativity, and flexibility of mind in young children. Students who are learning a foreign language out-score their non-foreign language learning peers in the verbal and, surprisingly to some, the math sections of standardized tests. This relationship between foreign language study and increased mathematical skill development, particularly in the area of problem solving, points once again to the fact that second language learning is not only a linguistic activity but a cognitive activity as well,

It is important to keep in mind, however, the learning or teaching conditions that surround the additional languages. Probably the ideal situation is having the additional languages learned at home (e.g., speaking one language to one parent and a different language with the other parent).  If the languages are taught in school, it is important to have quality instruction that offers lots of opportunities for extended discussions. The most effective techniques fall under the rubric of “immersion teaching.” If you want to delve deeper into this topic, the following site is a good place to start.

RELATED ARTICLE: The Pluses and Minuses of Foreign Language Immersion

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