5 Simple Ways To Make Your Baby Better At Languages

A list of 5 ways in which YOU can stimulate your child’s early language development

Early Language Development

5 Simple Things YOU Can Do To Make Your Baby Better At Languages

We know that young children tend to develop their first language skills in the second year of life. We also know that language learning is a natural and instinctive process. But did you know that, as a parent, you can have a positive influence on your baby’s early language development?

I have recently read a wonderful and educational piece about early language development in children, which has inspired me to write this article. As the original is really quite technical – feel free to judge for yourselves - I have tried to present its core findings in a clear-cut manner.

While some of the things on this list might seem pretty obvious in terms of generally accepted parenting practices, you may never have thought to (directly) link them to early language development.

1. Make sure your baby gets enough sleep
Babies need a lot of sleep for proper development. Establishing routines for eating and sleeping are among the most important things parents can do to assist healthy brain development in their child. And that includes the processing of sounds and other stimuli a baby receives throughout the day. (Ever wonder why a baby gets tired so often? Imagine if everything happening around you were a constant supply of new information!)

2. Feed your baby well
Good nutrition – and that means with sufficient fat! – such as breast milk or formula mixed at the proper strength, helps brain cells to cover themselves with an insulation layer of “fat”, technically called Myelin, which in turn stimulates the efficient transfer of signals and information. If your baby eats well, his or her brain will thus become more active AND more efficient. The more brain cell connections your baby builds, the better he or she can process all the new information.  In other words, NO DIET for your baby! ;)

3. Play with your child
Repeated, positive experiences with language will have a lasting effect on a child’s brain. Think of little word jokes, connecting pictures with their respective name or sound (“What does the cat do? Meow!”), reading or telling stories and poems, or even listening to music! Better yet, SING to your baby.

On the flip side, brain connections that are not stimulated will fade away. The people at IDRA rightfully call this phenomenon the “use-it-or-lose-it situation”, which is exactly the reason why we tend to forget certain languages learned in school if we never get a chance to practice them later in life!

4. Talk naturally “funny”
Studies have shown that babies – and in turn, the baby’s brain – respond best to a type of speech called “parentese“. That’s right, the often considered ‘silly’ or ‘annoying’ high pitched and slow voice most of us automatically tend to use when addressing a baby. Keep it up!  And make sure to exaggerate those facial expressions!
Don’t let anything or anyone tell you otherwise, not even the movie “Look who’s talking”: Babies love to hear the sweet melody of your voice.
In fact, they are more likely to listen to you at all if you speak parentese!

Studies have shown considerable differences in language development between children who were regularly talked to by their parents and children who were not. Moreover, experts repeatedly mention the importance of looking your baby in the eye. The most important advantage of face-to-face interaction? Your baby can see the mouth movements that belong to certain sounds. And let’s be honest here, don’t you like to be looked at when someone is talking to you too?

5. Help build your child’s self-confidence
You may have heard that young children learn a second language more easily than adults. This is actually true. The technical reason for this is that their window of opportunity for learning language is still open. Helping your children build their self-confidence by encouraging or playing with them during the time of learning a second language is very important, as this will motivate them and make the process far more enjoyable.

In fact, confidence is one of the most important elements at any age for the ability to express ourselves in other languages. As a result of my experience as a teacher, I can say with certainty that for most (older) students the highest barrier is often NOT the language itself, or their knowledge thereof, but the pressure they put on themselves
to correctly pronounce each and every word.
(For teenagers, the problem is often motivation, but that’s a completely different story with different solutions.)

You know what I tell my students whenever I am receiving nothing but one-worded answers to open-ended questions? I tell them to forget about perfection for a minute. Forget about saying it right. Instead, just talk to me. How has your weekend been? Where would you like to travel to for your next holiday?
The underlying message here is obvious: “Enjoy yourself. Remember (you too parents!): learning languages should above all be FUN!”

Best way to learn a language is the Fun Way

Always remember to have fun when learning (or teaching) a language!

OTHER IMPORTANT TIPS 

Besides the nourishing and stimulating actions discussed above, the article also stretches the importance of checking your child for ear infection on a regular basis. Although you might not directly relate healthy ears to good language skills, (repetitive) ear infection can cause children to ‘miss out’ on certain sounds or words, which in turn could seriously delay their ability to express themselves. It is always important to watch for signs of ear infections in a young child, such as not reacting to sound, pulling one’s ears, reluctance to suck, resistance to laying down, or having an upper respiratory infection. [As summed up by IDRA] 

And last but not least, did you know that it’s best to always speak your OWN native language to your child? A good understanding of their parents first languages, with lots of one-on-one interaction, will open a window of opportunity for learning other foreign languages. Hearing and familiarizing with their parents’ mother tongue is, understandably, much more effective than having your child grow up in an environment where one or both parents are forcing themselves to speak a language other than their own, in turn risking their child to learn a heavy accented or even wrong version of the target language.

“But wouldn’t I only confuse my child by confronting him or her with multiple languages?” The short answer to that question is: No. At least, NOT in the long term.
Don’t ever be afraid of confusing your child. Undeniably, children who grow up in a bilingual environment might mix the languages at first (2-3 years old), but they will quickly come out at an advantage (4-6 years old). Trust me. Or the experts at IDRA, of course. ;)

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For those of you who manage both the Dutch and the English language, I promise to soon provide a post with examples on just how hilariously funny bilingual children can be!

Are you bilingual? Or multilingual? Did you learn your additional languages at a young age or later in life?

Please share your own experiences and/or opinions on (early) language development in the comments section! 

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* For more general information or suggestions on how to support your child’s (language) development, IDRA suggests to visit Parents as Teachers.
** Other information sources used for this article are eMedicineHealthPBS and Raising Children Australia.
*** Photo credits go to Akorra.com, for their adorable photo of “babies speaking a universal language”, and Landysh Akhmetzyanova, for reminding us that the best way to learn a language is the fun way.

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