Changing Colors: The Blog of Spectrum Pediatrics

July 29, 2015

Bilingual Babies – Are Two Languages Better than One?

By: Jamie Hinchey, MS, CCC-SLP
  • At around 6 months old as babies start to babble, they start to focus more of their eye contact on the mouth and the eyes and start to essentially “lip-read.”
  • A new study finds that babies who are exposed to two languages from the beginning are able to lip-read more than babies who hear one language.
  • The infants in this study that were bilingual spent equal time looking at the mouth and eyes in both languages, compared to monolingual babies who spent more time looking at only the eyes.

twins baby girls sittingIn a recent study published by a professor in the Communication Sciences and Disorders Department at Northeastern University, bilingual and monolingual infants were observed.  The focus of this study was to use eye tracking devices to observe where infants focus their attention when listening and looking at a speaker.  It is known that infants mainly focus most of their attention on the eyes until they start to babble (at approximately 6 months). At that time, the child’s attention then shifts to focusing on the mouth, as well.  Regardless of what language the person spoke, the 4-month old monolingual babies spent more time looking at the eyes, whereas the bilingual babies looked equally at the mouth and eyes.  Also, it was determined that as the children grew (12 months old) that the bilingual children looked longer at the mouth regardless of what language was spoken.

The findings from this study are relevant to bilingual families, but also to the entire field of speech and language development.  Many families choose to raise their infants with two languages.  The findings indicate that when infants are exposed to more than one language sittingfrom a young age that they are able to adjust and pick up on the same language cues as children exposed to one language.  These findings can also play a role in treating other communicative disorders, such as Autism.  The ability to identify infants with different patterns of selective attention to speech at such a younge age could allow for earlier intervention.

This new information is helpful for parents who may be afraid to introduce their children to a bilingual environment.  In today’s world, children are often exposed to two different languages from birth.  This provides a great learning opportunity for kids, and research proves that children exposed to two languages from birth are able to develop speech/language at a typical rate. At Spectrum Pediatrics, we often treat children who are exposed to two or more languages and with individualized treatment and the most up to date research, we are able to provide the most effective treatment for bilingual children!

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