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Bilingual Babies

Updated on August 12, 2014

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!

Gwyneth Paltrow

Johnny Depp

Heidi Klum

Jessica Alba

Angelina Jolie

Madonna

Antonio Banderas

Why Teach Children To Be Bilingual?

Apollo Nikolai - My Bilingual Baby!
Apollo Nikolai - My Bilingual Baby!

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!

Apollo Nikolai - One Hour Old
Apollo Nikolai - One Hour Old

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!

Apollo Is Listening To Our Every Word!
Apollo Is Listening To Our Every Word!

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

Apollo Is Ready For His Language Lesson!
Apollo Is Ready For His Language Lesson!

BOOKS

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

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.

BILINGUAL BABYSITTERS

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.

INTERNATIONAL TRAVEL

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!

First Words (Bilingual Bright Baby) / Primeras Palabras (Bebe Listo) (Spanish Edition)
First Words (Bilingual Bright Baby) / Primeras Palabras (Bebe Listo) (Spanish Edition)

This is a beautiful board book that will teach your child their first vocabulary words in both English and Spanish.

 
Chicco Talking Dragon
Chicco Talking Dragon

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.

 
Chicco Count-with-Me Teddy Bear
Chicco Count-with-Me Teddy Bear

This bilingual talking bear is a fantastic interactive toy that speaks in both English and Spanish.

 

My Little Cuban Prince!

Click thumbnail to view full-size

Here, Daddy is sporting his brand new tattoo - his very first one! - It is the name Apollo written in Greek, with his date of birth underneath in Roman Numerals

Jorge had this tattoo applied to his inner arm.  He said the 'shading' was the most painful part... OUCH!
Jorge had this tattoo applied to his inner arm. He said the 'shading' was the most painful part... OUCH!

Please Share Your Thoughts And Ideas For Teaching Babies How To Become Bilingual... - Or, simply sign our guestbook!

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    • Glenda Motsavage profile image
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      Glenda Motsavage 20 months ago from The Sunshine State

      Hello Princessa. Trilingual??? Incredible! Thank you for sharing your success story with me. It gives me great peace regarding my Grandson. He's been talking for months now, and it never ceases to amaze me that he knows which Grandparents to speak which language to! My doubts no longer haunt me. Blessings to you and your multilingual family!

    • Princessa profile image

      Wendy Iturrizaga 2 years ago from France

      Very good advice. I have tried it with my children who are actually trilingual now. I think teaching them Spanish and English from birth was one of the best learning choices we made. Now aged 11 and 14 they are fluent (with no special accent) in both languages, plus French which they learnt when we moved to France some years ago.

    • Glenda Motsavage profile image
      Author

      Glenda Motsavage 2 years ago from The Sunshine State

      My sentiments exactly, RonElFran! And, like you, I've invested much into learning Spanish (I live in a predominantly Spanish-speaking town), but to no avail. It makes me even more of a believer of early childhood learning when it comes to a second language. I'm counting on Apollo to teach me!!! I'm so grateful for your visit and comments today - Thank You!

    • RonElFran profile image

      Ronald E Franklin 2 years ago from Mechanicsburg, PA

      I've always thought it a tragedy when parents who speak another language fail to bring up their children bilingually. What an advantage to effortlessly have proficiency in two languages. When I think of how much hard work I put into learning my not very fluent and atrociously accented Spanish, it makes me envy your grandson.

    • Glenda Motsavage profile image
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      Glenda Motsavage 3 years ago from The Sunshine State

      "Out of the mouth of two or three witnesses every word is confirmed!" Thank you, Adventuretravels, for sharing your amazing bilingual testimony! I have faith that Apollo will become as multi-lingual as your Son! I'll keep you posted!

    • Adventuretravels profile image

      Giovanna Sanguinetti 3 years ago from London UK

      Great Hub. We did this with our son he is now fluent in both English and Italian - but he also loves learning French, Spanish and German! What you write here works and surprisingly it's not that difficult to achieve. When my son started nursery here in London, he couldn't speak English at all, or at least that's what we thought. My husband couldn't believe it when he heard him speak English to his teacher - he was fluent even though we had made very little attempt to speak to him in English at home - he was only 3 and already speaking 2 languages perfectly well! Congratulations - your grandson he is very, very beautiful :)

    • DealForALiving profile image

      Sam Deal 3 years ago from Earth

      Fantastic hub! I live in a pretty diverse neighborhood and it seems like a lot of parents are just giving up on teaching kids to be bilingual, so this is refreshing.

    • Pawpawwrites profile image

      Jim 3 years ago from Kansas

      That is a great gift to give a baby. Wish I would have had that advantage.

    • profile image

      mumsgather 3 years ago

      Is Apollo really crying in Spanish there? You must be a very proud grandparents. :) In Malaysia, our children are trilingual. My kids study at a Chinese primary school but they are required to learn English and Malay too. Later on in Secondary school all subjects will be in Malay but they will continue to take English as a separate subject. Then there are the different Chinese dialects we speak. Oh, its all very complicated but the gist is they are required to learn all three subjects at one go. :)

    • SheilaMilne profile image

      SheilaMilne 3 years ago from Kent, UK

      Congratulations and join the club!! :) Both my sons live in the south of France and both now have bilingual babies. The first a little girl, almost five now, has English and French with also German because of maternal grandparents. The second, 6 months old, will have French, English and Italian. It makes me feel so inadequate with my hesitant French!

    • favored profile image

      Fay Favored 3 years ago from USA

      He is absolutely beautiful! You are correct, children that are bilingual do have so many more opportunities and ways of seeing things. The younger they are the quicker they pick up on a language. By the time he's ready for school he will outscore all his classmates.

    • Elsie Hagley profile image

      Elsie Hagley 3 years ago from New Zealand

      Congratulations for being grand parents. Beautiful hub, love your photos. This is a very informative article, as there were so many words I didn't know myself, thanks to you there was a answer. I didn't even know what a bilingual baby was. All the best for many more happy years with your grandchildren.

    • Glenda Motsavage profile image
      Author

      Glenda Motsavage 3 years ago from The Sunshine State

      @Jacolive: Wow, thanks for sharing about your bilingual son. You've got me really excited now for Apollo! I would love if you kept me posted with his progress. Feel free to come back here to post update reports to inform the readers!

    • Jacolive profile image

      Jacolive 3 years ago

      Aww, what a cute little baby! We are raising our son bilingual too. He is just over a year old, and it is amazing to see him understand the same words in 2 languages. Congratulations!

    • Glenda Motsavage profile image
      Author

      Glenda Motsavage 3 years ago from The Sunshine State

      @Andromachi: A learning lesson for me as well! Watching Apollo transform into a bilingual baby will be both a joy... and a tutorial! I'll keep you posted with his progress! Thanks for visiting today.

    • Andromachi profile image

      Andromachi 3 years ago

      Thank you for sharing your story. I learnt a lot I haven't heard before. Keep up the good work and God bless your grandson.

    • Glenda Motsavage profile image
      Author

      Glenda Motsavage 3 years ago from The Sunshine State

      @Heidi Vincent: First Grand-baby... period! (I waited 56 years, and had all but given up hope!) Thanks for visiting, and for the kind comments!

    • Heidi Vincent profile image

      Heidi Vincent 3 years ago from GRENADA

      Congratulations on your FIRST grandson, healinghands123! This is an excellent lens!

    • Glenda Motsavage profile image
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      Glenda Motsavage 3 years ago from The Sunshine State

      @Ruthi: I'll keep you posted on Apollo's progress Ruthi! I always love your visits!

    • brocklet profile image

      brocklet 3 years ago

      Apollo is so cute, congratulations to you and your family. I really wish I had grown up in a bilingual household - the ability to speak two languages is such an enviable skill.

    • profile image

      Ruthi 3 years ago

      I think it wonderful that Apollo is a bilingual baby! I do believe it is much easier to teach a second language to a child than to an adult. Apollo is such a handsome happy baby. Well, except for those bilingual tears!

    • Glenda Motsavage profile image
      Author

      Glenda Motsavage 3 years ago from The Sunshine State

      @Kim Milai: Yes, repetition is key! Even as adults, the more we hear something the better our chance of remembering it! I appreciate you stopping by today!

    • Glenda Motsavage profile image
      Author

      Glenda Motsavage 3 years ago from The Sunshine State

      @asereht1970: Thank you for the visit and your kind words! Perhaps the next time you hear a bilingual baby you will smile!

    • Kim Milai profile image

      Kim Milai 3 years ago

      You have great advice on the planning. We had a part time nanny that we asked if she would speak Mandarin with our children I see now we couldn't reach the 30% saturation point even though mom and dad tried to speak our few fumbling words like zhe zhe :)

    • asereht1970 profile image

      asereht1970 3 years ago

      Great lens. Very informative. Congratulations on your first bilingual grandson.

    • Glenda Motsavage profile image
      Author

      Glenda Motsavage 3 years ago from The Sunshine State

      @SusanDeppner: Yes, Susan, I definitely see the advantage of teaching a foreign language to children at a very young age. Here in Central Florida I hear toddlers speaking multiple languages everyday! Perhaps my Grandson will be the one to teach Spanish to me! I appreciate, as always, your visit and comments.

    • SusanDeppner profile image

      Susan Deppner 3 years ago from Arkansas USA

      Many years ago I worked with an Iranian young woman whose son spoke both English and Farsi perfectly (well, the English was perfect and since his parents spoke Farsi I'm sure it was perfect, too). He was about three or four and went from one language to another effortlessly when his mother spoke to him. So yes, it can be done and yes, what an advantage to a child in this day and age. Your Apollo is gorgeous! Have fun with him in any language you choose!