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Apollo - My Bilingual Baby Boy!
Meet Apollo, my very first (and long-awaited) Grandson. He's a bilingual baby, although he doesn't know it yet! That's what happens when an English-speaking American woman, (my daughter), falls in love with a Spanish-speaking Cuban man - and birth a baby boy.
It was inevitable that her dating pool would include non-Americans. For the past fourteen years we've lived in Florida, one of the most culturally-diverse states in our nation. Right here in my town of Poinciana there are a plethora of nations represented; people from over eighty different countries attend my church. One of our favorite pastimes has been to visit or host immigrant families to learn about their culture, food, and the various languages they speak. It never ceases to amaze me how their young children speak several different languages - all so fluently. So naturally, when my daughter announced her pregnancy, one of the first questions I asked was, "Are you going to raise your child to be bilingual?" Without hesitation she replied, "of course!" Over the past three months since Apollo's birth, I've learned so much about raising bilingual babies. In this article I will share why, when, and how to begin teaching a second language to your child.
Image Credit: All photos on this lens taken by me, Glenda Motsavage, with the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-WX150
Perfect (Funny) Gift for a Bilingual Baby... - Yes, I'm bilingual. I can cry in both English & Spanish!
This is one of the cutest baby or baby-shower gifts you could give to a bilingual family that speaks both English and Spanish. This onesie comes in various sizes and is also available in green, pink and white.
Here, Apollo Is Crying In Spanish!
Famous Families Raising Bilingual Kids!
Why Teach Children To Be Bilingual?
Until Apollo's birth, I never really thought about all the benefits of teaching children to speak multiple languages. When I went to school, (eons ago!), a foreign language was an elective. But more and more, rather than being an option, schools are requiring a second-language study. Therefore, the multilingual child will have a head start academically. Also, once the child knows two languages, the move to three, four (or more) is much easier. Here are some more benefits:
> Superior reading and writing skills in both languages
> Better social skills
> Better analytical skills
> Helps them become a more worldly person
> Increases their employment opportunities
And, just recently, Scientists have added one more benefit to being bilingual. It makes your brain bigger! I've read a study released by Swedish researchers suggesting that being fluent in another language can beef up your brain. The article noted that the cerebral cortex (the part that controls almost all of your brain power) was greatly enhanced. This would include skills like reasoning, planning, visual processing, and memory. Boy, could I use more memory! Even for adults learning a second language, the consensus is that being bilingual can keep the brain in better shape.
Did you know that being bilingual can enlarge your hippocampus???
That's the part of the brain that helps with long-term memory forming!
When Should I Teach My Child A Second Language?
What is the best age to begin the bilingual process? At birth. Yes, believe it or not, that's the very best time to begin teaching your child a second language. Since Apollo is my daughter's first child, she is already being challenged with feeding schedules, diapers, work dilemmas, and losing the baby weight. Added to all that, I know the thought of teaching him a second language must feel a bit overwhelming to her. But since his Cuban daddy, Jorge (pronounced Hor-Hey), speaks Spanglish (that means both English and Spanish - and, fluently, I might add), we have faith that it can be done. In fact, the experts say that learning multiple languages in the very early years is a nearly effortless means to fluency.
I took the the photo you see here when Apollo was only one hour old (or young?). Every time I look at it I am flabbergasted at how alert he is. I was actively involved in the delivery process, and I can tell you that Apollo came out of the womb with his eyes open! I can't help but wonder what his soon-to-be multilingual mind was thinking. With this level of awareness, I am certain that birth is the best time to begin the multilingual journey.
Multilingual children tend to speak a little later than their monolingual counterparts, but we know that up front. The average delay is about three to six months. This makes perfect sense to me, as they are learning twice as many words. How old was your child when they first started walking: nine months, twelve months, maybe longer? But as you know, in the end they walked just as well as the early birds. Well, it's the same principle with speaking.
The multilingual mind of a baby is amazing. It's brand new and uncluttered. Think of it like a newly acquired computer. The database is empty and you can fill it with whatever you desire. There is no harmful data to remove; no viruses, no reprogramming. That is the very reason a second language is simple for a child to learn compared to adults. Sure, your child can learn it later, but the process will be more difficult.
When Apollo was first born I didn't understand the bilingual process. Every time his Cuban grandmother spoke to him in Spanish I cringed. I was extremely concerned that it might actually be detrimental to him. I erroneously thought it could harm his primary language. I didn't want him becoming confused. Now I know that his little brain has more than enough neurons to cope with two languages (or more!). Considering how much babies must learn in their first years of life, another language does not add much to the load.
For those who think that a second language is too much for a baby to learn, consider Einstein. Do you think that his intellect suffered growing up with both German and Italian? And... he didn't start talking until he was three years old!
How Do I Teach My Child A Foreign Language?
When I look at my Grandson, Apollo, it's hard for me to imagine him speaking dual-languages when I haven't even heard 'mama' or 'dada' yet. How will my cute little cooing machine transform into a polyglot tot? (That's a term referring to multilingual children.) During my most recent visit with Apollo, while he was chewing my shirt sleeve and slobbering all over my arm, I asked Jorge that same question. How exactly does this process work? I learned there are some very practical things that need to be done.
#1 Family Agreement
Tanisha (my daughter) and Jorge are in total agreement about teaching Apollo both English and Spanish. If both parents (or caregivers) cannot agree, you are setting your child up for failure. There is a biblical scripture that says, "A house divided will not stand." Your bilingual plan will surely fall apart without cooperation from both parents.
#2 Get A Plan
Make a precise plan. One popular method is for one parent to always speak to the child in the primary language, and the other parent to speak in the second language. This is referred to as One Person, One Language (or OPOL), and seems to be the most common. Regardless of what you decide, stick to the plan.
#3 Be Realistic
Language experts agree that a child must be exposed to a language 30% of their waking hours in order to actively speak it. If you do not offer enough exposure to it, they will not speak it. Some parents have successfully introduced up to four languages simultaneously - but they worked very, very hard at it.
#4 Find A Support Network
Get together with other groups of parents who speak your language and are raising their children to be bilingual. If you can't find a group... build your own. This is a great way to receive some much needed encouragement, and also learn from each others mistakes. Also, these children will become your child's playmates in the future. As parents we already know the huge influence that other children can have on our child. I remember when I first sent my daughter to kindergarten. My oh my, the things she came home speaking - (things she didn't learn in our home!). Sometimes the ultimate teachers can be other kids.
#5 Patience Is A Virtue
We have a little saying in our home that goes like this: "Believe it and receive it, doubt it and go without it!" Don't lose heart when doubt sneaks in. Sure, there will be ups and downs - good days and challenging ones. But that happens with parents of monolingual children too! Yes, your child is certain to get the languages mixed up from time to time. It's perfectly normal for them to slip back and forth between the two. But it's temporary and harmless. (Heck, even as an adult I sometimes can't find the right word to express myself.) Once your child builds a bigger vocabulary (usually around four or five years old) this will pass. Remember to always give your child positive feedback. In the early years, be slow to correct and quick to praise.
Some Great Teaching Aids For Your Bilingual Babies
Books are one of the most effective tools for teaching children anything, including a foreign language. Start reading at birth - it's never too early.
Games are another great aid towards fluency. They allow you to incorporate language learning with your child's playtime. There are some excellent game choices geared specifically to help build vocabulary.
SING & DANCE
What child doesn't like music? This is a fantastic aid to help increase memory. Remember that little 'ABC ditty' we sang as kids? That catchy little tune made it much easier for us to learn them. Plus, whenever we combine music with movement the results are even more dramatic.
When it comes time to hire a babysitter or nanny, search for one who speaks your second language. Do not underestimate the power of this teaching aid. Children are sometimes left in the care of a sitter for 8 - 10 hours a day. Don't miss out on this window of opportunity. As I mentioned earlier, the child must be able to hear the second language 30% of the time in order to speak it.
Perhaps the ultimate language boost is to visit a country where your foreign language is spoken; possibly your native homeland. Tanisha and Jorge already have plans to take Apollo to Cuba. Not only will he be introduced to some extended family members, but he'll also be immersed in the culture and language for a couple of weeks.
These Are Some Of The Best Teaching Toys For Your Bilingual Baby - Some are available in Chinese, Hebrew, Arabic, Russian, Portuguese, and other languages!
This is a beautiful board book that will teach your child their first vocabulary words in both English and Spanish.
This adorable pull-a-long toy is a great bilingual teaching aid for your child. It includes 10 different songs that teaches alphabet, numbers, shapes, animals and colors in both English and Spanish.
This bilingual talking bear is a fantastic interactive toy that speaks in both English and Spanish.