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In Language, Two Is Better Than One

Your baby's first words are exciting -- but did you know your child could learn and use those words in more than one language?

Studies show children from birth to age 3 have a tremendous capacity to learn languages. "You can start your child at any age learning more than one language, but preschool age is really an important time to learn," says Sylvia Martinez, Ed.D., director of multicultural practices and education at the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association.

"Historically, all around the world, kids have learned many languages at the same time. The brain has the capacity to handle all those languages," says Dr. Martinez.

If you're teaching your child a second language, make sure you speak in that tongue some of the time so your child can use what she's learning. But don't switch back and forth in the same conversation -- that could make it harder for your child to learn.

Learning a second language usually helps your child's English ability, too. Research also shows that besides being able to communicate with more people, bilingual children have improved overall school performance and superior problem-solving skills.

"Being bilingual in the future may get you a better job," Dr. Martinez adds. Today's "hot" languages include Spanish, French, Chinese, Arabic and Japanese.

"It is never too late or too early to begin a second language," says Henriette Langdon, Ed.D., associate professor of communicative disorders and science at San Jose State University. "Bilingualism is a treasure."

Second language tips:

  • Start teaching your child early.

  • Make sure to speak the second language some of the time so your child can use what she's learning.

  • Provide language in a natural setting.

  • Separate the two languages when you speak to your child.

  • Teach your child to read and write the language, not just to speak it.