Your toddler will be way smarter if you speak to him or her in two languages

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Imagine you're a bilingual parent, and you've just had a kid. How soon should you start speaking to your child in both languages? According to a new study, the answer is… probably immediately.


Everybody knows being a bilingual speaker brings all kinds of auxiliary benefits, but this finding is relatively new. At the University of Washington, researchers say that babies can benefit as soon as 11 months into their short lives if spoken to in two languages.

“Our results suggest that before they even start talking, babies raised in bilingual households are getting practice at tasks related to executive function,” Naja Ferjan Ramírez, lead author and a research scientist at the Institute for Learning & Brain Sciences (I-LABS) at the University of Washington, said. “This suggests that bilingualism shapes not only language development, but also cognitive development more generally."

As Ferjan-Ramirez says, the benefits transcend just language skills—the study shows bilingual babies get a boost in the executive regions of their brain, centered in the prefrontal cortex and orbitofrontal cortex. That's dope!

The experiment required babies to sit in a high chair underneath an MEG scanner, which resembled a helmet. While listening to a stream of sounds specific to English and Spanish, the babies were monitored for brain activity; the "Spanish-English bilingual babies had stronger brain responses to speech sounds, compared with English-only babies," according to the study.


Michael Rosen is a reporter for Fusion based out of Oakland.