I am continually amazed at the ability of babies and toddlers to absorb a second or third language. I shouldn’t be surprised since I share the facts with parents and best ways to expose their child to a second language. But still–I call it magic! Once again, I was at the home of a 19 month-old who is primarily hearing English, but has the opportunity to hear Spanish from an adult, 2-3 days a week. Little Maddie is raising one hand and saying, “mano,” and raising the other hand and saying, “hand.” She is showing that she knows that two words in different languages can represent the same thing. This knowledge that words actually stand for objects is an early metalinguistic skill, when someone can think and talk “about” language.Maddie was starting to “mix” English and Spanish words in her mini-conversations. This is typical of a child learning two languages and will begin to diminish as she gets fluent in both languages.Typically, children aren’t exposed to two languages equally. In Maddie’s case, she is hearing far more English than Spanish so she is speaking in two-word sentences in English and still using only single words in Spanish. Her Spanish will catch up as she logs more hours hearing it and using it. Maddie is showing an understanding that one adult represents Spanish and her mom represents English. She speaks Spanish to her adult friend and English to her mom. Children are able to separate situations and people by the language that they speak to them and therefore answer appropriately. If you’re exposing your child to a second language at an early age, or considering it, here are some advantages that are listed in the literature:

  • Higher capacity for learning the second language as teens or adults
  • Helps their minds expand linguistically in a way that gives them an educational advantage later
  • Deeper appreciation of language and how it words (metalinguistic skills)
  • Comprehend written language sooner than their peers who speak one language
  • Advantage of knowing 2 cultures and being able to speak to a wider range of people