My little polyglot

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Lots has been written and said about bilingual kids.  The understanding of what teaching a child multiple languages from the start has been studied ad naseum.  This is wonderful, because it dispels the myth that raising a child in a bilingual household is detrimental. It refutes the idea that multiple languages will “confuse” children.

In fact, kids are like sponges. They are constantly learning. This is something I knew in a know it sort of way before Little Elephant’s birth, but I am continually witnessing and finally coming to understand as she grows.  She, at 16 months, has the capacity to absorb and understand so much of her surroundings in ways that I, at 32, cannot fathom.

Bilingual children are often a bit later in starting to speak, but the differences are made up by school age.  Not only are the  differences made up for, but these kids are moving along at a steady speed in two languages, the same speed that monolingual kids move in just one.

Also, research has shown that there are other differences.  For example, being bilingual can slow Alzheimer.  Also, if a person has a stroke and loses one language, they may be able to fully retain the other language.  Also, research has shown that bilingual children have a drastically more nuanced understanding of grammar.

Little Elephant is well on her way to being a polyglot.  In Kazakhstan, we encouraged people to speak to her in Russian (and Kazakh).  Here, our nanny speaks to her primarily in Albanian.  Dada speaks to her in (mostly) Spanish. I speak to her is a combination of English and Spanish.  The outside world speaks to her in a combination of English and Albanian. We read books in English, Spanish, and Russian.

While most of her first words have been English, her vocabulary has started to explode and includes:

English: Mama, Dada, Harley (dog’s name), baaaaal (ball), mik (milk), blellbuln (belly button)

Spanish: agua, enana (de nada), mama, gracias

Albanian: puts (këpucë), babi

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4 responses »

  1. It’s interesting that you write that bilingual or multilingual kids start speaking later. I had heard that in so many places, but when I started to research it myself, I read studies that looked at large groups of kids and it found that the difference isn’t really that much.It’s all within the normal range. Of course, I’ll know more after trying it for myself, so take what I say with a grain of salt. It will be interesting to see how her language develops as she gets older.

    • My experience is that my daughter is speaking at the later end of the normal range, but she clearly is understanding who should speak which. It is also clear that she will be a little chatterbox!

  2. I love having bilingual children. However, I am not sure their English would be as good as it is if we didn’t have the visits we had back to the UK. I speak to them in English, but having everyone else around them speak in Spanish means that Spanish has become their first language.

    It really is amazing watching how they process and learn.

    Once, when we were fixing the roof, my oldest who was little at the time said “mama, hay uñas en el techo!” She didn’t know clavos for nails, only uñas for finger-nails!

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