Tips & Tricks For Parents

How Your Child Can Learn Multiple Languages

Any child, even one who has received a cochlear implant, can learn multiple languages. Here’s what you can do to start your child with a cochlear implant off on the road to developing strong language skills in multiple languages.

Creating the Best Environment

As a parent or family member the best thing you can do is foster a healthy environment. Build a partnership between your family, your child’s caregivers, and specialists like audiologists and speech language pathologists.

This means having an education that consistently emphasizes developing speech and language skills, giving them access to the most current technologies, and making sure that you’re always monitoring your child’s hearing progress so that you use the most age-appropriate language.

When Should You Start?

As with so much that has to do with hearing, the earlier the better. But really, as long as your child has access to speech within the first few years of life then that’s a good sign that he or she is ready to start learning verbal language—including multiple languages.

It’s up to you to decide how you want your child to learn the second language. There are two main techniques: learning them together, or learning one after the other.

  • Learning Languages Simultaneously:
    • If your child has or will be exposed to multiple languages before age three, then that’s called simultaneous learning.
    • The trick here is knowing when to speak which language.
      • When your child is at home, speak to him or her in your home language—which might not be the language commonly spoken in public.
      • Then other languages, which the family isn’t fluent in, are taught by other native speakers like teachers; this happens at the same time the child is learning the family’s language at home.
  • Learning Languages Sequentially:
    • If your child has learned one language before age three, and will be exposed to multiple languages after age 3, then sequential learning could be the right way.
    • Here’s when to teach each language:
      • Start by talking to your child with the language that’s used at home, which may or may not be the language commonly used in public where you’re living.
      • Once your child has built a good base knowledge of this first language, then you can slowly introduce the second language bit by bit.

For both of these techniques it helps to have different languages tied to a different person or situation. That is, you could have one language spoken at home and another at school; or, you could have the mother speak one language and the father the other.

A Development Guide for Learning Languages Simultaneously

For a child with hearing loss, there are a few distinct steps that he or she will take on the road to developing multiple languages. Of course every child is different so you should use this more as guidelines than a checklist.

  1. Early on your child will probably stay silent, and just listen without speaking. This could last anywhere from four to six months.
  2. By 12 to 13 months of intervention, your child should start saying single words.
  3. Your child will probably mix up the different languages in these early stages. He or she might understand a concept in both languages, but only speak it in one. For example if your child is learning English and Spanish and hears “milk” then he or she may say “leche.”
  4. Between one or two years of intervention, he or she should be able to talk about these concepts in both languages even if he or she doesn’t say full sentences in a single language. For example, repeating “milk” when he or she hears “milk” and “leche” when he or she hears “leche.”
  5. Then after age two he or she should be able to recognize the difference between the two languages and switch between them sensibly.

How quickly a child develops an understanding of words and syntax in each language depends on how much exposure he or she has to each language. More exposure can lead to faster development, so your child might develop these language skills faster or slower.

Next week we’ll be posting some tips and tricks for how you can help your child get exposure to languages, so stick around!


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This post was written with help from MaryKay Theres and Michael Douglas, both of whom are speech-language pathologists and certified auditory-verbal therapists.

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