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Teach Your Infant a Second Language

The best time to teach your child a second language is at the same time she’s learning the first. That’s because research shows that children begin understanding and communicating even before they’re born. In the womb, babies move in sync to mom’s voice — a movement that scientists say imitates speech. Little ones — even younger than 12 months — quickly absorb what they hear and see, meaning they can pick up a foreign language or signs if they’re regularly exposed. Dr. Raúl Rojas, assistant professor and speech language pathologist at University of Texas at Dallas says we are wired to learn multiple languages and thus should be exposed to a second language early. So vamos! (That’s let’s go in Spanish.)

Babies experiment with communication immediately after birth by crying. Their communication then continues to develop in the months ahead as they coo, babble and use gestures to converse.

Within the first three months, babies are very efficient at noticing phonetic differences, Rojas explains. So this is the best time to introduce baby to a second, even third, language.

And in our increasingly global world, kids benefit from speaking more than one language. Research suggests that in the long run, multilingual children exhibit stronger communication skills, enhanced creativity and obtain higher achievements in school and more career opportunities.

And the same can be said for babies who learn American Sign Language (ASL). Little ones master using their hands long before learning the intricacies of utilizing their tongue and vocal cords to communicate their wants, so experts suggest repeating five or six basic signs with babies, starting around 4 months or so, though it may take months for baby to reciprocate the sign for milk or hungry, for instance.

Not at all. In fact, babies who learn sign language typically speak earlier and have bigger vocabularies by age 2 than children who haven’t. And child psychologists have found that learning a second spoken language actually adds to, rather than replaces, a first language.