Talking to Babies in Different Languages

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.

 

Grunt, Babble, Coo: What’s your baby saying to you?

istock_babynoiseIn Books for Babies we get to hear all kinds of babbling, giggling, coos, cries, and shrieking. Mostly from the babies of course. And it’s a lot of fun to see all the ways that babies try to communicate with us. It takes a while for us to learn what they want to tell us, and even longer for these new people to learn how to talk the way we do.

All babies are different, of course, but here are a few tips that I’ve learned in my years with this program.

  • Crying – You might hear that babies have different types of cries for when they are hungry, lonely, scared, etc. Lots of babies do have different cries that mean different things, but some don’t. Also, there is no international baby language, so your baby’s hungry cry might not sound anything like another baby’s hungry cry.
  • Speech development – Speech sounds are not so easy to make, and some are harder than others. Babies will start babbling after only a few months, but certain sounds will actually take years of practice and muscle growth before your child can say them clearly. Alberta Health Services has a great checklist here: http://www.humanservices.alberta.ca/documents/talk-box-speech-sounds-checklist.pdf
  • Substitute sounds – Just because your baby is saying “Ba! Ba! Ba!” does not mean they are trying to tell you about something starting with “Ba.” Babies aren’t born with a thesaurus to get around those sounds they can’t say yet. So, also pay attention to your baby’s body language, where they are looking, and every other clue you have, to figure out what your baby is trying to tell you.
  • Learning Multiple Languages – Babies can learn to understand a number of different languages at once, but with more speech sounds to learn they might start talking a little later.

Remember, learning language with your baby is like making music together or dancing; the communication has to go both ways. It is important that they hear you talk (and sing), but it’s just as important for you to listen to your baby and watch for their reactions and signals. In the beginning you can only recognize each other’s happy and unhappy noises, but you’ll learn from each other and fill in all those other details as you go.

If you would like more information about our Books for Babies program, please check the Centre for Family Literacy website: www.famlit.ca