Connecticut Families Extra: Bilingual Baby Brains

Connecticut Families

SEATTLE, Wash. (Ivanhoe Newswire) — A study out of the University of Washington’s Institute for Learning and Brain Sciences says it’s never too early to expose kids to two languages. Researchers measured brain waves and found that by 11 months of age, infants recognize and process sounds from Spanish and English. That gives them an advantage as they learn more.

Daniel Perez and Jenny Ring-Perez started speaking Spanish to Camilla and Alessandra at birth.

“I was really committed that these girls have Spanish as one of their languages so that they can really know themselves as being also from Costa Rica,” shared Jenny.

They also had Spanish-speaking teachers and time with Daniel’s family in Costa Rica. And during the pandemic, parents and kids have had more time at home together to hone language skills.

“What I noticed is that the phonetics is pretty impressive to see,” said Daniel.

That’s what Naja Ferjan Ramirez, Ph.D., a research scientist at the University of Washington, found in her study. She measured brain waves from 11-month-olds and found they’re already learning the language or languages they’ve been hearing.

“At the time that they’re getting ready to say their first words, they’re already primed to do that,” explained Ferjan Ramirez.

Bilingual babies showed strong responses to both languages and had stronger brain responses in areas that are responsible for executive function. Ferjan Ramirez says the infant brain is capable of learning two languages simultaneously.

“If we give babies an opportunity to experience a second language during infancy and early childhood, they will be able to, and should be able to develop native-like fluency,” continued Ferjan Ramirez.

Researchers at the Institute for Learning and Brain Sciences say a child who hears only one language will lose the ability to distinguish between sounds that don’t occur in English, while a bilingual child will continue to be able to differentiate those sounds.

Contributors to this news report include: Cyndy McGrath, Executive Producer; Milvionne Chery, Field Producer and Roque Correa, Editor.

Produced by Child Trends News Service in partnership with Ivanhoe Broadcast News and funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation

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