The Truth About Raising a Bilingual Baby

Expert tips for teaching children to speak fluently in multiple languages.


If you're fluent in two or more languages, you might be considering passing that knowledge down to your little one. Experts like Franí§ois Grosjean, Ph.D., author of four books on bilingualism, point out that teaching your tot multiple languages will mean that he can speak with family members who don't know English (more bonding time!). Bilingualism will also help with open-mindedness and, once Baby's all grown up, even job opportunities. Most importantly, bilingual education won't confuse your tyke. "Children are wonderfully good at separating their languages," Grosjean explains.

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When to Start

Teaching your kid two languages from birth is A-OK, but waiting longer is just as effective. "When you start your tyke's bilingualism depends on many factors," Grosjean says. "You can become a totally fluent bilingual if you start at age eight, nine, ten or even later."

How to Do It

Some experts suggest the "one-person-one language" technique—e.g., your tot knows to speak French with Dad, but English with Mom. Grosjean does point out one flaw, though: Dad speaks English, too, so eventually your baby will figure out that French isn't necessary to get Pop's attention and may drop the less-vital lexicon. To encourage him to keep speaking the nondominant one, he'll need support from extended family, playgroups and even trips abroad.

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Alternatively, Grosjean recommends the home-and-away strategy. If both parents speak Italian—even if Mom is native and Dad only learned some in college—they can try to make their home an Italian haven. When the baby goes to school, she'll thank her teacher in English. But at home, she'll need to say grazie.