Stages of Bilingual Development
How to Help Develop a Bilingual Child
It is important for your child to learn the language of the country and the mother and/or father’s tongue. According to Patricia Kuhl, babies are geniuses. Babies have the ability to take “statistics” on what we are saying to them. Unlike adults, babies are able to absorb these “statistics” that we teach them at such a young age. After Patricia looked at a baby’s brain under an MAG machine, it was observed that one part of the brain is stimulated which causes another to stimulate. After puberty, there is a systematic decline from this “genius” level. Due to this decline, it is important to teach your baby the native language as they grow.
According to Patricia, it is great to become bilingual at such a young age, but is this actually an easy task to complete? The answer is no. Throughout your child’s development there are going to be struggles that must be anticipated. However, these struggles are normal development for a bilingual child. As a parent, try not to compare your child to a monolingual child’s development because in early childhood stages, they will move faster with language. Your child will not learn both the environment and minor language by magic, but it doesn’t mean it will feel impossible.
Going parallel when teaching both languages is the best way. The reason behind this is because if they speak in the minor language in one environment, then go off to school not knowing the country’s language it can put your child in a very stressful situation. In this case, the child will pick up on the language of the country, but the minor language will regress faster. In addition to going parallel with both languages, both parents must support the minor language in order for the child to comprehend the importance.
Now after understanding how bilingualism works in early childhood, let’s break it down age by age…
Birth to 1 year old
Within the first year of your child’s development, the child will react to sounds. This coincides with what Kuhl spoke about in her Ted Talk. Babies are citizens of the world, they can discriminate all the sounds of every language. By monitoring the sound, the baby will try to make the sound themself. This is when the “statistics” come into play, the child is figuring out what sounds to know and understand.
1-2 years old
During this period of development, the child understands the simplest statements in each language. Your baby will be able to utter neutral words such as “mom” and “dad” along with responding to their own name. In this stage, your child is still learning the very basics of each language by performing simple tasks and naming objects. As mentioned, monolinguals may be ahead in language development at this point. Monolinguals are usually able to start saying up to fifty words by a year and a half. But don’t worry, your bilingual baby has a lot more information in their head. By one and a half, bilinguals will speak in mixed languages. For example, for each object or action, one concept is fixed in one of the two languages.
2 years old
Once your child turns two, you will really notice a difference in monolinguals. Monolinguals are at a stage where they have wordy sentences, but also simplify words. Bilinguals begin a period of language confusion. Bilinguals will get in a habit of choosing easier words from the well-known language for pronouncing and insert them into their sentences regardless of the language of the question. It is important to keep working with your child, they do not need to see a specialist, this is part of bilingual development.
3 years old
At the age of three, your child will begin to resist multilingualism. They are able to distinguish who speaks which language. At this point in time, it is important to consistently show support from both parents on the child becoming bilingual, especially with the resistance. At this age, the child will question why they need to keep talking in the minor language. Keep it parallel and simplified, your child will understand soon, it is part of the development.
In this stage, the child will begin to become a “natural” bilingual. The child begins searching for a match, not a translation. You will also begin to see progress in your child responding in the language they were asked in. By age five, your child will understand they speak two languages and are surrounded by two cultures. This can be an exciting time, as parents really see the progress in language development. Also, each language should reach the same level as it reaches for a monolingual child, such as vocabulary, spontaneous speech, and pronunciation.
6 years old
By six years old, your child should be pretty developed on bilingualism. Your child should be open to communication with peers and teachers. Overall, there is definitely a long period of time where you will doubt the development, but in the long run I can promise you it will pay off!