Languages At An Early Age

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Languages At An Early Age

Previously written 2015, recently edited, July 2019

I was born in the Philippines.  My parents spoke Tagalog (the main dialect in the Philippines) to me as an infant, up until the time we moved to the United States at 1 year and 11 months. They spoke to me in English thereafter, without ever being encouraged to learn Tagalog again.  When I was older, maybe around high school, I asked my parents why they never taught us Tagalog and they explained that they thought my sister (who was younger than me) and I would have a greater chance of achieving success in the “New World” if we only spoke English.  As a young girl, even growing up in New York City, I felt different, as if I didn’t quite belong. I saw myself as different from other children because of my skin color and the way I looked. I’m not sure why I felt so different since New York City is the melting pot of cultures and languages, but I realized at a very young age that I was different.  At that time my thoughts were far from learning my native language.  After a few years in NYC my family moved to upstate New York to a predominantly Caucasian community, where I felt even more alienated and just wanted to “fit in.” It wasn’t until my second year in college, that I embraced who I was and asked my parents why they never taught us our native language. 

And so, with that not so brief introduction, here I am a few decades later, still yearning to learn my native tongue.  Luckily, for myself, I recall bits and pieces of the language which I pass on to my boys now; the bits and pieces, that is.  Additionally, when my first son was a toddler, he embraced learning in every way. We took advantage of the free language programs on Comcast including sign language.  He loved learning French, German, Spanish, Mandarin and sign. Later, we thought that if we were to help our son be successful in the future, why not teach him the language of the majority population in the world...Mandarin.  Actually, one of the TA’s in his pre-school would teach him words he and there. She told us about the Newton Chinese School.  We enrolled him in the kindergarten Mandarin writing and reading class when he was in Pre-K and we both continued to learn for the next 4 years. It’s never too early to learn a language and it’s a lot of fun; not to mention, it also promotes healthy development.

Not only is learning a foreign language easier for children than it is for adults, but children who are exposed to other languages also do better in school, score higher on standardized tests, are better problem solvers and are more open to diversity, says François Thibaut, as well as other researchers.

Dr. Titzer, PhD, infant researcher, says that in many areas of the world, infants learn two languages and in some areas of the world learning at least  3 languages is common. 

Dr. Erika Hoff, PhD says that the acquisition of language is one of the more remarkable achievements of early childhood and that by age 5, children essentially master the sound system and grammar of their language and acquire a vocabulary of thousands of words. 

Not only do the cognitive benefits of learning a language have a direct impact on a child’s academic achievement compared to those without an additional language, but it also nurtures their curiosity, cultural sensitivity, empathy and tolerance for other cultures. 

Young children are not confused by the introduction of multiple languages at the same time, as the popular belief may be. They are able to naturally navigate multilingual environments.  Acquiring a second language early in life actually prepares the brain to learn multiple other languages. 

Cognitive benefits of being bilingual:

  • Your child will be a more flexible thinker.
  • Your child will be able to communicate with many more people.
  • Your child may appreciate cultural differences more after communicating with people in other languages.
  • Universities usually have a second language requirement. For some people who are not exposed to other languages early in life, this requirement can be difficult.
  • There may be additional job or business opportunities for people who are fluent in multiple languages 20 or 30 years from now.
  • Teaching your child multiple languages early in life could allow her to learn other languages more easily in the future.

Because I was also learning Mandarin, I wanted to get as many resource books and tools to help us learn. I must have spent hundreds of dollars on books and DVD’s.  I downloaded several apps as well that were never really that great. Had I known about Your Baby Can Learn! Language programs, I would have purchased them right away.  What I like about this program is that it’s not only books and DVD’s, but it’s a whole kit with an assortment of tools including sliding picture cards and word cards, milestone cards and Audio of native Mandarin Chinese speakers reading the books and word cards + Digital parent guide Dr. Titzer's Guide to Early Learning in English and Chinese.  I would highly recommend any of Your Baby Can Learn! Language programs, to parents considering teaching their young babies and children other languages.