Bilingual Benefits for Babies & Toddlers
What, why and how to introduce your little one to a second language!
Frequently when people ask what I do and I tell them that I run French language story & singing sessions, I am met with a quizzical look. Yes, I sing songs in French to small children and their parents/carers! I love what I do as it brings such joy to see their faces light up or hear them repeating words in French.
My classes are suitable for everyone – from those who don’t speak a word of French to native speakers. As a total beginner, your child (and you!) will begin to learn words and simple phrases through stories, songs and rhymes with the use of puppets, props and gestures. For native speakers, the sessions provide support for Francophone children growing up in an English speaking country.
In this article about how young children can best learn languages by Tracey Chapelton of the British Council, she states: “Learning another language early allows your child to fully enjoy the way it sounds. Children aren’t afraid to play with languages. They are drawn into the magic of rhymes and songs. They hear and experiment with the beat of a song; they enjoy mimicking the pronunciation of new and strange words; and they play with rhyming words through repetition, even inventing their own examples.”
This is one of the reasons that I choose to teach through chansons et comptines (songs and rhymes). Music and rhymes lend themselves as a natural method to learn a language. They are memorable and infectious – you may find yourself humming the tune and singing some of the words long after class has finished, which is just as it should be!
So when is the best time to start learning another language?
Children have the ability to easily attain proficiency in a foreign language until between the ages of five and seven years old. But it’s preferable if your baby begins their bilingual journey between birth and 12 months. At that age, babies are able to perceive the differences in sounds of a language and learn as a native speaker would.
It’s also important to note that the most valuable learning experiences are those that are relevant, engaging, authentic and involve social interaction.
In a study of 9 month olds, those exposed to a foreign language through social interaction resulted in the same level of phonetic recognition as native infants compared to infants who only had exposure to the language through audio or video, whom did not demonstrate significant progress.
There are numerous benefits of learning another language. Here’s just a few:
Communication – awareness of language, sounds, oral competency
Cultural – broadening the view of the world
Creativity – flexible thinking, different ways of looking at things
Cognitive – object permanence, problem solving
Critical thinking – analytical skills