A pamphlet entitled Parents’ and Teachers’ Guide to Bilingualism includes the aphorism, “Language among young children is caught rather than taught.” This ability was evidenced by one young child who had neighbors from Mexico. As she played on the swing set in her yard, this little girl heard the children talking to each other and their mother calling them in or scolding them in Spanish. 

Years later, this same girl was at a movie with friends, and much of one part was in Spanish. Not understanding the language, the others wanted to leave. When the girl asked them why they wanted to leave when they had already watched much of the movie, the others replied that they did not know what was said. “What do you mean?” she asked. “The one group agreed to go another way, and …” she went on, not even realizing that she had been translating the dialogue.

Incorporating a Second Language

At the University of Washington, the Co-Director of the Institute for Learning & Brain Sciences, Patricia Kuhl, is the author of “Early Language Acquisition.” This work demonstrates that up until the age of seven, children are ripe for language learning. She also reports that babies who range from six months to a year old can easily absorb the speech sounds surrounding them. When family members speak two languages, the small child’s brain can differentiate between the sounds of the two languages. In contrast, a non-native speaker would experience difficulty in perceiving or, at least, articulating this difference.

Developing Creativity and Problem-Solving Skills

Other benefits come from exposing a child at an early age to different languages. For one thing, the child’s brain will quickly identify the nuances between the sounds of a language that a non-native speaker would experience difficulty in perceiving or articulating. The bi-lingual (or multi-lingual) child will also cultivate problem-solving and critical-thinking skills and achieve some significant milestones early on because their minds are “mentally flexible.”

Early Developmental Achievements

Bi-lingual children often reach developmental stages faster than their peers who speak only one language. Therese Sullivan Caccavale, the President of the National Network for Early Language Learning, observes that understanding two languages helps babies develop “object permanence” sooner than one-language children.