At two years old, my toddler speaks English and Tagalog and knows a lot of Spanish words. Even though my husband is Mexican and I’m Filipino, we’re terrible resources for languages because we don’t speak them often enough (and definitely not to each other). Instead, we rely on our families to expose him to different languages.
We also borrow at least one Spanish book a week at the library that his dad reads to him (sadly there aren’t many Tagalog translations of popular children’s books). He may not follow the story as well, but we’re hoping that hearing the words will help him remember and understand them, especially in relation to the pictures he sees.
And we substitute words in English for Spanish and Tagalog. For instance, we say ibon for bird or gato for cat. The downside is that he doesn’t hear or speak the languages in proper grammar; we’re still using the English grammar. So we might say, “Look at the ibon flying in the air!” or “Do you see the gato?” But at least he’ll have a general translation of some common words. In fact, when we’re out and about and he hears a conversation in Spanish, he’ll point out that they’re speaking “Spanish!”
Ironically, I’m not sure if my toddler will speak or understand the two languages when he grows up. Unless he’s immersed in the language where he hears and speaks it every day, he’s likely to lose it in preference for English. I’m a classic example: I grew up in the Philippines for the first eight years of my life, but two years after living here in the States I stopped speaking Tagalog (even though I can still understand). I’m guessing that unless he constantly practices, he’ll probably just understand the languages as well without speaking them.
Why do we still promote different languages then, if there’s no guarantee that he’ll even speak fluently as an adult? I’ve read a few studies on the benefits of bilingualism on early brain development, including better focus despite distractions and the ability to disregard irrelevant information. For instance, if you show a bilingual child the word “red” written in blue and ask him what the word says, he’s likelier to say “red” whereas a child who speaks only one language is likelier to say “blue.”
We also like exposing our toddler to different languages because that’s such a huge part of a people’s culture. Especially since he’s mixed ethnicity living in the U.S., we want to raise him with an awareness and appreciation of his culture and family. He’ll hopefully understand how global our world is, and that there’s a wider scope beyond the small world he has known.
Do you teach your kids a second (or third) language? What benefits have you seen?