One of the most exciting areas of brain research today deals with the effects of bilingualism on cognition.
Studies have shown that speaking two or more languages produces a kind of intelligence that goes beyond language.
In fact, speaking two languages fluently transforms the most important operations of the brain in quite ingenious ways. The result is a sharper and more flexible brain.
Here are two must-see videos by Drs. Ellen Bialystok and Patricia Kuhl on bilingualism and the brain. After watching them, scroll down this page to go back to our original question: How can we nurture the inborn bilingual genius of babies and toddlers?
Patricia Kuhl video: The Bilingual Genius of Babies
Ellen Bialystok video (Move the cursor to minute 16 to see her presentation):
As explained in Bialystok’s video, the bilingual intelligence that researchers find so fascinating is linked to fluency, not to memorizing a few colors or learning some songs – although these are important activities to do along the way. The further you move along the fluency continuum, the bigger the benefits, both in terms of fueling the bilingual “genius” and in terms of opportunities (speaking two languages fluently is a great skill to put on your resume!).
No doubt that’s great news if you are a bilingual parent and can speak to your child in two languages…
BUT, how can monolingual parents seize the bilingual genius of babies?
Here are two of my projects geared to help parents speak another language fluently with their children. The first one, Bilingual Smart, coauthored with Karen Nemeth, is a series of Kindle books with audio for parents and toddlers. The second, The Language Mamapreneur, will be a website with resources and ideas for prospective or experienced language program owners.
Bilingual Smart is based on the knowledge that:
- Babies and toddlers’ language flourishes with “Parent talk.” Young children learn languages best through one-on-one interaction with real people. For as much as we love technology, that’s not the way the baby’s brain is set to learn language (but technology can be used interactively with an adult with great results).
Talking to a child is not only key for language development: research has shown that, for young children, “parent talk” is highly correlated with a child’s future success in school and in life. Parent talk is also called “mother talk” and “motherese,” since mothers tend to spend more time with their infants.
- Babies and toddlers acquire language by living it. So forget about sitting down and explaining a lesson! Just do things and talk about them.
- Babies and toddlers need everyday language reinforcement. Therefore, it is better to talk with them about important things in their life.
Co-author Karen Nemeth and I have developed interaction models in the form of 15-minute “Bilingual Smart Games” that parents can use to turn everyday activities into bilingual opportunities and powerful brain-builders. Counting Cheerios over breakfast, matching the top and bottom of pajamas and discussing the weather, all present opportunities to help your child learn a different language and grow cognitively.
While we are starting with Kindle books, we may produce the games in other formats – your input is highly valued in this respect (please add a comment at the end of this blog if you want).
Of course, the Bilingual Smart books complement my other books and applications, all of them geared toward increasing fluency. You can find my books on Amazon.com, Barnes and Noble and other bookstores. My applications are available through the iPad App Store and through the Amazon App Store for Android. Teaching guides: Spanish for Preschoolers and French for Preschoolers. Or try my curriculum The Little Red Hen for ages 3 to 5.
My second project has to do with my lesson plans and resources for those of you who want to start your own language programs teaching young children. The sixteen bilingual curriculum sets to teach children ages 1 to 10 in several languages will be available soon. The Little Red Hen is available now in Spanish/English & French/English.
And here is a question for you: how do you say “Bilingual Genius” in your language?
I decided to go with “Ingenio Bilingüe” in Spanish (as opposed to “Genio Bilingüe”) because “genio” also means “bad tempered” in Spanish – not that babies can’t show some temper!
Ana Lomba is changing the way people think about and interact with young children learning languages. Her Parents’ Choice award-winning books, teaching guides, lively songs, games, stories, and mobile applications are quickly becoming favorites with teachers and parents who want to nurture young children’ inborn language abilities. Key to the success of Ana’s break-through method is a focus on the family as the ideal environment for early language learning – even her signature curriculum for language programs is built with parents in mind. Ana has taught toddler, preschool, elementary school, and college-level Spanish courses, and held leadership positions with some of the most influential language organizations in the US, including ACTFL, NNELL and FLENJ. After graduating with a law degree from Spain, her native country, Ana pursued graduate studies at Binghamton University, Princeton University, and NYU. She lives with her husband and three children in Princeton Jct., NJ.
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