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Laila is 5 months old and while she isn’t ‘talking’ yet, she is definitely communicating in her little baby babble to us. Often, when we ask her a question or speak to her, sing to her, kiss and hug her, she not only coo’s now, but makes audible, (and adorable), sounds that are her own little words. It got me thinking on how to get her to learn not only English, but Gujarati, which is mine and my husband’s second language. We both are bilingual, (multi lingual if you count our broken Spanish and my ‘used to be’ fluent French), and with all the books out there on raising your child bilingual, I decided to go to a source that has the credentials to back it up. My mom. She raised all 3 of her kids to be proficient in Gujarati, her and my father’s native tongue from India. Even now, when some of my friends who understand my language hear me, they ask how I became ‘so good at it’. I love knowing another language, and think that it would have been way harder to learn it if my parents had not taught it to me when I was a baby. In all fairness, although it may seem easier to raise your child from an early age to become bilingual, it doesn’t stop adults learning a new language too. So, if you are aiming to study English for example, you may want to look into someone like AJ Hoge, who delivers courses that you can download that helps you learn to speak English fluently and confidently. It’s never to late to learn a new language.
So what are the benefits of raising your baby bilingual?
There are lots of reasons someone would want their kids to learn a second language. The most common reason is that they feel their child will benefit from knowing it later on in life. For example, some moms use English games for kids as a way to make sure their child is confident in speaking English, the most common language in the world.
For us, it is about preserving our culture. I think it’s important to incorporate culture into Laila’s learning and every day life. But besides that, there are studies out there that show how good it is for your child’s development which is always a plus.
In a New York Times article, it states that one study showed that “babies born to bilingual mothers not only prefer both of those languages over others – but are also able to register that the two languages are different.”
In another study with infants, “those shown silent videotapes of adults speaking, 4-month-olds could distinguish different languages visually by watching mouth and facial motions and responded with interest with the change. By 8 months, though, the monolingual infants were no longer responding to the difference in languages in these silent movies, while the bilingual infants continued to be engaged.”
The studies also showed that “bilingual children develop crucial skills in addition to their double vocabularies, learning different ways to solve logic problems or to handle multitasking, skills that are often considered part of the brain’s so-called executive function. These higher-level cognitive abilities are localized to the frontal and prefrontal cortex in the brain.”
So, with science proving how beneficial it can be to raise your kids bilingual, and since momma knows best, here’s the advice I learned from my own mother and my own research and what I plan to start doing with Laila, so she can be a bilingual baby, too.
1. If you and your husband speak the language you are teaching your baby, speak to each other in it at least once a day. It was different for my parents, since I am first generation and their native tongue is their first language and English is their second language. With my husband and I, we speak English to each other all the time and rarely speak in Gujarati, (unless we are talking about something private and don’t want anyone hearing u- haha… or if we are talking to our parents on the phone). So we decided when Laila is watching us, for instance at dinner, we will we deliberately speak to each other only in Gujarati for that one conversation.
2. Read books and play music in the language you are teaching them. We often read books with shapes and colors to our kids that are in English, but invest in books in the language you are teaching them, too. I got these awesome books by Bindi Baby, and also got Chai Momma Neesha’s son a Gujarati for Kids DVD. As I got older, I would watch Hindi movies with my cousins and listen to old and new ‘Bollywood’ songs. Making learning another language fun, just like we do in teaching them to read and broaden their English vocabulary is key, I think.
3. My mom said when your child starts speaking, use two words for each object or item you say. For instance, when teaching them “cat”, if I was to want to teach them French, I would say “cat” and also at the same time “le chat”. Do this for every word, it will be easy to develop the habit to do it around them and will become second nature for you then.
4. Visit the country or immerse your family into the language. For us when my siblings and I were younger, that meant my grandparents living with us or visiting them often when they moved, since my grandmother did not speak English and it required us to speak only in Gujarati, hence, getting more practice and exposure to the language.
5. For older kids, have a rule of speaking only in the language on certain days or certain times. Growing up, when we all sat together as a family for dinner every night, it was a rule that we could only speak in Gujarati so my grandmother could understand what we were saying.
I can’t wait for Laila to start speaking and taking her on this journey of learning more than one language:)
Dp you have a bilingual child or plan on raising one? What are your tips or ideas? I would love to hear in your comments below!
Hi Puja, great article! We too want Anjali to learn Gujarati (well atleast speak and understand it… not convinced she will need to read/write it as I have hardly read/written Gujarati since learning to and am no longer as fluent).
We were planning to always speak English to Anjali as her grandparents are always talking to her in Gujarati but your article has got me thinking whether we should be speaking Gujarati to her too. The other question I suppose is whether to send kids to Gujarati school and whether to get them to take official exams in the language.