Marysville Library Blog

Monday, May 23, 2011

Teaching Language to Babies

I’ve had two conversations recently with mothers wanting to teach their very young children a language other than English, when they don’t know that language very well themselves. I applaud what they’re trying to do, but it is very hard.

Babies learn by social interaction. They learn by listening to and watching a person, trying things out themselves, and having that person react to what they do and say. Simply watching something on a screen, even if it is supposedly aimed at young children, is not a very effective way to teach a language. Television shows and movies obviously do not react to children, so children don’t learn language from them. Given this fact, what can you do to teach a language to a baby?
  1. Talk to your baby. Narrate what you’re doing, narrate what they are doing. If they’re playing with the pots, touch the pot and say “Pot” in whatever language, then use it in the sentence telling them what they are doing. If you don’t speak the language, have them spend time with someone who does. 
  2. Read a book to your baby. Sno-Isle has books in English, Spanish, Russian, Korean, Tagalog, Chinese and Japanese. Use lots of drama in your voice and body to give them a clue as to what’s going on. Do they bat at or point to a particular image? If you know the word for it, repeat the word. Do they say something sort of like the word for it? Praise them and say it again, correctly.
  3. Sing songs with your baby. Most songs for the very young have motions that go with them, and if they don’t you can always make them up. Sno-Isle has lots of music available in different languages.  Since I speak Spanish, my favorite resource in that language is José Luis Orozco.  For other languages, search for "children's songs" and whatever language you're interested in.

Guess what – all of these suggestions work for English too! And don’t worry about your baby getting confused or delayed in learning English while also learning another language: studies also show that young children raised in bilingual homes have the same vocabulary levels as children raised in single language homes, just spread out over both languages.

The more opportunities you give your child to learn, the more your child will learn - whatever the language.