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Every Kid Deserves the Chance to Learn and Grow

Pair these FREE educator-developed printable activities with your favorite Encantos videos, books, and songs to help your child develop critical reading, writing, math, and social emotional learning skills. Plus, check out our Tips for Grown-ups to help reinforce the teachable moments in each lesson.

Oct 08, 2021 -

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An Early Start to Bilingualism

By Sophia Espinoza

There is a common misconception among parents that simultaneously learning two or more languages can be confusing for a child, or that being multilingual negatively impacts language development or academic success.

There is a common misconception among parents that simultaneously learning two or more languages can be confusing for a child, or that being multilingual negatively impacts language development or academic success. In fact, the opposite is true. For decades, research has shown that the benefits of language immersion programs include higher academic achievement, better literacy and language skills in both languages, and stronger cognitive skills.

The benefits are clear, yet parents still have many questions about raising bilingual children, starting with “when is the best time to introduce a new language?” Some families simply wait until language classes are offered at their schools. Some private and public schools start second language instruction as early as Pre-K, while others wait until children are much older. When I was a student in suburban New York, my public school district didn’t start to offer Spanish until 6th grade.

Luckily, I grew up in a Spanish-speaking household and my parents did everything they could to support  my Spanish development at home while I learned English at school. My mom read to me in Spanish from when I was a baby, and then taught me to read Spanish around age 5.

Today, as an educator and expert in bilingual education, I treasure my parents’ gift of early bilingual language and biliteracy. I’ve learned that introducing a second language early sets children up to gain native-level proficiency in all of their languages, and takes advantage of the fact that children’s brains are primed for learning.

Recent research has brought more clarity to the question of whether or not there is an ideal or “critical period” for language acquisition. In 2018, researchers conducted a large-scale linguistic study of more than half a million English speakers and found that native grasp of grammatical fluency is attained by those who start a new language before age 10. Learning languages is possible any time in life, but those of us who have tried to learn as adults know that it can take more time and we can never quite get rid of the accent or grasp grammar as well as a native speaker.  

There is also fascinating research being done on infant neuroscience that shows how advantageous it is to start a second language right at birth. In a powerful 2017 TEDx Talk, Dr. Naja Ferjan Ramirez explains her latest research on creating bilingual minds. Early on in her talk, she unequivocally states that “the human brain is fully capable of achieving native fluency in two languages at the same time, and that we don’t necessarily have to struggle to get there.” In studying the brain processing of language of bilingual babies between 0-3 years of age, she’s found that before babies can even speak, their brains are becoming specialized to process the sounds of both languages they are exposed to at home. As they get older and neural connections are lost, so is the opportunity to hear and produce nuanced sounds of different languages.

Another key advantage of starting early is related to how we learn second languages. Using repetition, conversation, and visual cues are well-known ways to develop a new language, and they are also common strategies for general early childhood education. Songs and nursery rhymes are used to introduce and reinforce vocabulary, pretend play lends itself to children speaking in their new language out loud, and the tangible nature of their learning and play materials (blocks, books, etc.) set them up for better language acquisition. The activities that are fun and developmentally appropriate for children 0-5 are also perfect tools for helping them acquire a new language.  

This is why we do what we do. Canticos is a bilingual learning platform. We don’t just teach English or Spanish, we teach in English and Spanish. We care deeply about setting up children for success on their bilingual education journey. Starting at birth, children’s brains are ready for multiple languages, and it’s the perfect time to celebrate language and culture with the whole family.  

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Ask a Bilingual Expert

Raising a bilingual child? On this page, our very own Director of Learning Design and Efficacy, Sophia Espinoza, addresses some of the most common questions, concerns, and curiosities around the benefits of bilingualism. Get the scoop below!

Sophia Espinoza is a career educator and curriculum designer with seven years of experience teaching in private and independent schools across the country. She is an expert in 21st-century education, including technologically-powered personalization, multilingual and multicultural curriculums, and social-emotional learning.

Sophia began teaching in Chicago Public Schools through Chicago Teaching Fellows, learning to support both English Language Learners and students with neurodiverse needs. Among her proudest accomplishments is launching the AltSchool Spanish Immersion Program, with the mission of creating bilingual global citizens who are socially conscious and environmentally aware. Sophia holds a B.A. from Northwestern University and M.A.Ed. from Dominican University.

Benefits of Bilingualism (FAQs):

Any advice on managing two Spanish dialects in the household? Does this cause confusion for kids?

What do you recommend if I’m not completely fluent and my child’s school doesn’t have an immersion class?

Do you recommend teaching different subjects in different languages? For example, the solar system in English and the days of the week in Spanish? Or is it better for kids to try to learn in both languages all the time?

We speak Spanish and English in our home but my child almost always answers or talks back in English. How can I go about encouraging her to respond and speak more in Spanish?

Should I set aside time or create activities for each language or is it okay to mix them both together?

Any advice for households where one parent speaks Spanish and the other English? Can this be confusing for children?

How can my child learn language through play?

What are the social and cultural benefits of bilingualism?

What are some of the cognitive benefits of bilingualism?

What are some strategies for raising bilingual children?

What are some common misconceptions about raising bilingual children?

What are some of the cognitive benefits of bilingualism?