We work with mothers, fathers, grandparents, and caregivers from a number of countries and backgrounds. Together they speak more than 60 languages, and for many of these families, that means that more than one language is being spoken at home.
Children born into these homes are incredibly fortunate. There are many benefits to being able to speak more than one language. Languages create connections between generations, between cultures, and between places all around the world. And having more connections to our world and the people in it is a wonderful gift.
So, how can babies best learn more than one language?
The first part is easy: they need to learn from people. Face-to-face interaction is by far the best way for babies to learn new languages. Videos, apps, and recordings will not help babies. Video chat is the only exception. The second part is that, when they are old enough to speak, they have to use the new language regularly.
When I first started in this field, there were concerns about confusing babies with different languages, so recommendations were quite rigid. But research from the last 10 years suggests that babies are not that easy to confuse, so you can explore an approach to multiple languages that works best for you and your family.
Here is an excellent guide from Nexus Health in Ontario. It discusses the benefits, different strategies, and ways children learn multiple languages: “When children speak more than one language”.
Whether you are fluent in one language or can speak in many, have fun singing and talking with your babies. I promise that they want to hear from you.
Visit the Centre for Family Literacy website for more resources and tip sheets for parents.