As a speech-language pathologist, parents often ask me if it’s okay for their child to learn more than one language. The answer is yes! Whether the child presents with a language delay or not, there are advantages to being bilingual or multilingual.
Learning a second or even a third language benefits a child’s overall language development and communication skills. The child may even do better in school, and show improved memory and attention.
A child who learns more than one language might have:
- A larger vocabulary
- A better understanding how words sound, helping them to learn to read and spell
- Stronger bonds with their families
- Access to more than one culture
- A chance to make more friends and find better jobs later in life
How and when is the best time for my child to learn more than one language?
- Children can learn both languages at the same time from birth or before the age of three.
- Children can learn a new language once they have mastered their first language (after the age of three). The second language can be learned in a daycare, preschool, school or from a family member.
Research suggests that the best time for children to learn two languages is before the age of seven.
What is the best way for my child to learn a second language?
There are a few different ways your child can learn another language. As a parent, you can decide what way works best for your child and family. The important thing to remember is to be consistent and to try not to mix languages.
Here are 3 options that may work for your child and family:
- One person or parent, one language – One person speaks one language to the child and another person/parent speaks another language. For example, mom speaks French to the child and dad speaks English.
- One place, one language — One language is spoken at home and the other language is spoken at school.
- One activity, one language – One language is spoken at home and another language is spoken during a specific timed activity. For example, Spanish is spoken at home and English is spoken during story time each day.
It’s important to keep in mind that children need many opportunities to hear the new language and to practice it every day. They need to be exposed to a variety of words in well-formed sentences; so talk, sing, read and play with your child in the language that is most natural and comfortable for you.
Children learn language best when they are engaged in meaningful and loving interactions with their parents or caregivers. If you are having fun while speaking in your first language, your child will want to learn the language too.
When your child starts school or daycare where a different language is used, continue to talk to him in his first language even if he answers in another language.
Stay tuned for my second post in this series where I discuss what to expect from a child who is learning a second language. If you have concerns about your child’s speech and language development, contact us at Toronto Preschool Speech and Language Services.