Early Childhood Multilingual Development
May 17th 6PM @ La Scuola d'Italia
By Dr. Sara Michael Luna
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1. Exposure to More than One Language Builds a More Powerful Brain
Studies on brain development indicate that early exposure to more than one language builds a more powerful brain, with faster and more efficient synaptic connections.
During the first six months of life, infants babble using 70 sounds which make up all the languages of the world. At 10 months important changes take place: babies grow used to the sounds of the language spoken in their surrounding environment and their ability to distinguish between different foreign sounds lessens gradually.
Bilingual infants and children are acutely aware of different languages and diverse cultures, unmatched by their monolingual peers. Bilingual children can easily distinguish between familiar speakers, identify which language they are speaking, and respond in the same language.
Research shows that all newborns possess the ability to distinguish between the different sounds of all the world’s languages. Newborns can hear the difference between the French “r”, the distinctive open palate sound of Italian vowels and the unique expressions of Mandarin. In contrast, adults who speak only English cannot hear these differences.
Patricia Kuhl, Professor of brain and speech at the University of Washington studies the critical period during which babies easily acquire language skills. The first critical period is before 12 months and is referred to as the celestial openness of the child’s mind. Babies learn one language over another by listening to humans around them and “taking statistics” on the sounds they need to know. Only talking, touching, reading, singing and movement stimulates the brain. Babies can discriminate all the sounds of all the languages of the world.
"The earlier they're introduced to a second language, the easier it will be for them to pick it up. When these children get to school age, they tend to have superior reading and writing skills in both languages, as well as better analytical and academic skills"
-A Guide to Raising Bilingual Children
"Knowing the language of one's parents is an important and essential component of children's cultural identity and sense of belonging."