Question of the Week

Bilingual babies brain development

Tue, 12th Nov 2013

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Esther asked:


I love your podcast!

I have been listening to it for a while now and today I heard a story that specially caught my attention: it was about people in Glasgow being influenced by the media when it comes to their accent.

My question is related, but not directly.

I'm Spanish. And I live with my niece, sister and husband.

I lived abroad for about 12 years ( English speaking countries ) and my English vocabulary is large and I am quite fluent ( so I think "blush"). I have just past the examination called Cambridge English Proficiency. (CPE) Anyways since the baby was born a year ago I have spoken to her in English solely and I have been her carer for most of her first year. I'm Spanish after all and I do have an accent. I'm worried that the poor girl won't learn English because of that. I do listen to absolutely everything in English when I'm with her. Including cartoons. She loves Pocoyo! She will be enrolled in a bilingual school when she is three. So the question: is it ok If I speak to her in English? Is it a benefit? Or is it delaying her learning?

Thanks so very much


Hannah -   This week, we climb the tower of Babel to get our brains around this.

Ester -   Hello, there.  My name is (Esther) and I am calling from Madrid.  I came back to Madrid to take care of my niece (Alyana).  She’s just 1 year old.  Since then, I haven’t spoken to her solely in English.  So, my question is, is it okay if I speak to her in English or I am delaying her learning?  Thank you so much for your help.

Hannah -   So, is it good to raise your baby bilingual?  We turn to Babydevelopmental linguist, Professor Antonella Sorace from Edinburgh University.

Antonella -   The short answer is, yes, raising a baby to be bilingual certainly affects his brain for the better.

Hannah -   Aha!  But I'm sure I've heard raising a baby with two languages is actually bad for development, that they won’t do quite so well at school?

Antonella -   What is coming out of research is a completely different picture.  Bilingual children tend to be better for example at understanding how language works in general.  And so, they pick up other languages more easily.  They tend to learn to read earlier than monolingual children.  They find it easier to appreciate that other people can have different perspectives and different points of view.  Bilingual children also tend to be better at focusing attention and monitoring their own behaviour.

Hannah -   So, there are long term benefits of being brought up bilingual, including as published this week in the American Academy Neurology, delayed onset of old age dementia.  So, the bottom line for Esther...

Antonella -   I would say, Esther, go for it.  Try to speak English to your baby and to create many opportunities as possible for your child to hear English and to get engaged with English.



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Whatever the local language - and kids become fluent in that within a year of starting school - fluency in English will stand anyone in good stead in any career, business, travelling the world, or just enjoying the huge output of entertainment from Hollywood, Bollywood, detc. alancalverd, Wed, 11th Dec 2013

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