Q1. Should I start listening to Multilingual Babies during pregnancy?
Babies could recognise, and remember, the sounds they frequently heard before birth–that’s why babies recognise their mother’s voice from the beginning, and why listening to the same sounds they heard before birth (e.g. frequently played music, mother’s voice) could have a calming effect. Having consistent audio programs before and after birth has the calming benefit of ‘reminding’ babies of the pre-birth environment.
Q2. What if my baby is above 1 year old now?
The critical period when the brain could naturally recognising all subtle differences of sounds has closed,however the human brain is still very plastic when the child is young. Research has shown that playing different sounds repeatedly to babies above 1 year old while linking the sounds to visually different objects could ‘train’ the brain to regain the ability of recognising the subtle differences between sounds. However, in general, the younger the child is, the more ‘plastic’–easily shaped–the brain is, and the easier of learning something new.
Q3. Will children confuse the languages they hear?
No. Very young infants in a multilingual environment already know that there are different languages that are being addressed to them and will treat them separately. It is highly likely that hearing multiple languages may help their maintaining the gift to differentiate phonological features and fight the decline as they grow.
Many multilingual kids do exhibit slight mixed use of languages (substitute unknown words with those from another language which they already learnt, what the experts call code-switching), but in order to achieve the maximum communicative effects and such behaviour is highly deliberate—that they clearly know they are mixing two languages together for certain purposes other than speaking a single confused messed-up language. Moreover, they tend to do this to addressees who they know would understand.
Q4. Will simultaneous multilingual children be confused by the different languages?
Almost all multilingual children speak all the languages as natives. Although they are slightly late in developing vocabularies in each language compared with monolingual counterparts (because they have more sets of languages to learn!), in all other aspects, the multilingual children hit the developmental milestones (such as babbling, first word, first 50 words) at the same age just like the monolingual children, if not earlier.
All the hypes that think simultaneous multilingual children cannot really properly acquire all languages are based on one single hypothesis that the human brain is set for one language, which more and more studies are increasingly discrediting. It is clear now that the infant brain is set for extracting all regularities in the patterns of input from the outside, among which are languages, and there is no limitation on the number of languages that the brain can accommodate.
Q5. Will learning two languages delay children’s cognitive abilities?
Multilingual children enjoy significant cognitive advantages than monolingual children, as proved by researches in linguistics and cognitive development. As a matter of fact, the benefits of being multilingual are huge! All the worries about multilinguals being cognitively inferior went back to some notoriously flawed studies more than half a century ago where the conductors did not take into the account of social economic status of their participants and their identification of a participant as a multilingual was based on a mere guess.