News | Published February 25, 2013

Bilingual households and speech strategies

With Penn State here in the Centre Region, we have many children in our practice who grow up in bilingual houses. These children are sometimes a little slower in their speech development but end up being fluent in both languages at a very young age.

A recent study from the University of British Columbia (UBC) and Universite Paris Descartes reports that babies as young as seven months old can begin to learn two different languages – even if those languages have different grammatical structures.

The study, which was presented at the 2013 Annual Meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Boston, finds that infants use pitch and duration cues to decipher between languages that have opposite word orders, like English and Japanese.

“By as early as seven months, babies are sensitive to these differences and can use these as cues to tell the languages apart,” says UBC psychologist Janet Werker, co-author of the study.

“If you speak two languages at home, don’t be afraid, it’s not a zero-sum game,” says Werker. “Your baby is very equipped to keep these languages separate and they do so in remarkable ways.”