videos such as Baby Einstein, which are also available in different languages. Audio books with accompanying picture books are good exposure as well,” Melissa shares.
Encourage Junior to practise what you’ve both learnt – perhaps you could even let him take the lead and play “teacher” with you, too.
USE IT OR LOSE IT
Immersion is the key to mastering language, so try to constantly expose your baby to it as part of everyday life.
“In Singapore, we are fortunate that there are many social opportunities where different languages are spoken,” Huang Ying says. This could be at the hawker centre, community centre, or even chit-chatting with neighbours.
VISIT THE GRANDPARENTS
You can also enlist the help of Grandpa and Grandma. “If you have multilingual family members, make an effort to take advantage of it and have them speak to your baby in the languages regularly from the beginning,” says Melissa.
Raising a bilingual baby is a dedicated, family affair. “The main challenge is for the parents. There must be continuous effort made to incorporate the language on a regular, if not daily, basis. It should be experienced on a holistic level, or what is referred to as ‘knowing and living the language’,” she concludes.
A tall order, but one that can be accomplished more easily the earlier you start introducing Baby to languages. Little two-year-old Summer Tan spends her afternoons watching English cartoons and reading Chinese storybooks with her mother.
Exposed to both languages, the energetic tot effortlessly switches between English and Mandarin when she speaks. Science says she stands to benefit from this ability.
Bilingual infants such as Summer are able to learn a third language more easily, a study by National University of Singapore (NUS) researchers found.
They are able to differentiate between words from an unknown foreign language, unlike their monolingual counterparts.
“That suggests that the window on further language acquisition had started to close on monolingual children but was very much open for the bilingual children,” says Associate Professor Leher Singh from the NUS department of psychology.
During the nine-month study, infants who were solely exposed to English and those who knew English and Mandarin were exposed to the southern African language, Ndebele.
In one experiment, the 40 infants were shown an image and at the same time read a Ndebele word.
After that, they were shown the same image, but this time, a different word was read out to them. The bilingual children detected the change in sound, while the monolingual children did not.
The conclusion was made using a method that tracks the time that they spent looking at an object on a computer screen while the word was read out to them. More fixation time when the tone changed reflects a surprised response, indicating that they were sensitive to the differences.
The finding, published in scientific journal Child Development last year, further supports the theory that exposing children to two languages at the same time has cognitive benefits.
An earlier study by Prof Singh and her team found that bilingual babies can master the rules of each language faster than monolingual babies.
A child learns a language fastest from birth to the age of three. In the past people used to think teaching a child two languages at the same time would hamper the early learning process for both languages, Prof Singh says.
She adds: “This study suggests parents trying to raise bilingual children shouldn’t worry about that, and in fact we should be aware of the fact that it is beneficial to children.”
Knowing this puts Summer’s mother, Audrey Wu, 38, at ease. The housewife had initially limited Summer’s language exposure to English as she had read that teaching babies two languages concurrently would confuse them.
But seeing how Summer could not communicate with her grandparents, who speak Mandarin, Audrey decided to teach her the language as well.
“It’s a relief to know this will not have any bad effects on her language development, but will in fact enhance it,” Audrey says.
– THE STRAITS TIMES