How to teach baby two languages at the same time
Updated: Dec 23, 2022
As a new parent one thought that made us quite nervous and eager was to imagine how our child would sound when they speak those first words. What would those words be and in which language. I remember a lot of our friends saying how in their experience they have tried teaching their child more than one language but ended up having to satisfy themselves with only English. No matter what they would do, the child just would not respond in any language other than English. I also heard theories of how it can get confusing for kids to pick up multiple languages at the same time. But really is there a bar on the number of languages a child can pick up? I doubt it. I have myself grown up learning four different languages spoken in India! Hindi and English are languages spoken or understood in most parts of India, Bengali because I was born and brought up in Bengal (so the interactions with a taxi or a shopkeeper would have to be in Bengali) and finally Marwadi which is my mother tongue – we originally hail from a western Indian state called Rajasthan which has Marwadi as its language. Each of these languages I could read, write and speak very fluently. So did I get confused as I was growing up? Was I able to do it because I was an extra-ordinary child? Did my parents do anything so differently that it cannot be copied again? The answer to all these questions is No. However I wanted to make sure I can try it out on our toddler before concluding that the process works. So what is the mantra that can solve this puzzle? It’s simple – provide the child the right amount of exposure to the languages you want them to pick up. In my case I had exposure to English at school (I educated from a school with English as the first language), my mother used to speak in Marwadi with me and she made my father speak in Hindi with me (in fact it has remained the case till date). I learnt Bengali from speaking to friends in the locality or playing with them. Therefore the guidance is simple. However the implementation is more difficult – especially when you live in western countries where the families are small and there is not much interaction with neighbours. So the first aspect was for us to pick up the languages that we wanted our toddle to pick up. We chose Hindi and English only. The main reason is because these are the only two languages my husband knows out of the four I knew, so the most common ones we were going to use in our household. Our toddler started going to a day care when she turned one as joined back work after maternity leave. The day care was using English to communicate with her. So all we had to do was to ensure that we always, and I really mean always, speak in Hindi with her. Once she joined the day care and started speaking words, I remember days when she would be tempted to respond in English – as she was hearing that throughout the day and it was easier for her to explain in the same language as she has experienced it during the day. However I would not react to what she would tell me. I would instead add the following in Hindi – “Sorry I can’t understand what you are saying as I only understand Hindi”. She would realise what I said (although sometimes she would try again in English but without luck) and translate it in Hindi for me. There were few such instances before she realised that inside the house it is Hindi and outside the house it is English. Now I have a toddler who can communicate in both the languages and I don’t see her confused at all. In fact she surprises us with the amount of words she knows in each language and translating it for us when she is looking through flash cards for animals, fruits and vegetables. All in all, I believe that the fact that more languages can confuse children is a myth. In fact it is the exact opposite – it would actually make them more confident knowing that they can communicate to a wider audience!