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Monday, May 10, 2010

Baby Talk

One of my closest friends has just given birth to her first child. His name is Andrés and is two days old and he is beautiful. However, I have a dilemma - and no, it is not whether to have one of my own. The dilemma is the following: do I speak to the child in English or in Spanish? Of course, my natural instinct is to speak Spanish: I speak to his parents in Spanish, none of our group of friends speak English very well and although completely fluent in Spanish, I'm not the best at switiching between the two languages. Every time I'm with an English-speaker and a Spanish-speaker at the same time, I always end up speaking the wrong language to each one.

So why the dilemma?  Well, as soon as my friend discovered she was pregnant, she promptly informed me that I would have to speak to the child in English so that he would have a headstart and somehow acquire English just by listening to me speak English babyspeak. Of course, my friend has no knowledge of language acquisition and just assumes that if I talk to the boy in English for half an hour very week (I only see them on weekends) he will suddenly be able to speak the language when he is older. Everyone has it got into their heads that children are brilliant natural language learners (which is why they all put their kids into English lessons when they are four years old) but there is evidence that a child who starts at four and one that starts at eleven will have similar chances of learning a language well. My friend's son will evidently not acquire English from me speaking to him for a few minutes a week.

What is your opinion on the subject of language acquisition? Is it worth me talking to the baby in English? Will he get any benefit from this? Or will he just think that his "Auntie" Michelle speaks funny? Should I just do it to keep my friend happy?

I'd love to know your thoughts on the matter.


  1. I'm not a neuro science expert but from what I know about brain development it's a great idea. Although the child is unlikely to speak English without any further exposer there's something about synapsis responsible for sounds (very discrete sounds) recognition which are formed during the first year of life. Anyway, if I remember right, the first year is crucial for brain development so it's probably better to give more than less. Children are smart, I would say, in the way that will take what they need. So I think it's a good idea to speak to the baby English.

  2. Hi Michelle,

    It seems to me we are on the same page in this regard. If you're only going to see the child for about half an hour a week, I really can't see the point. I'd say otherwise if it were the case of the child's parents also interacting with him in English.
    Interaction, not exposure alone, is necessary for the development of a second (and even a first) language. Even if his parents make him watch TV in English, it still isn't the same as having to interact in the target language. Half and hour, or even 2 hours a week for that matter, are not cost-effective in my opinion.



  3. Thank you both for your comments. Maybe, as lazy daisy says, providing the child with exposure to the sounds of English may help him in the future, especially with aural comprehension and pronunciation. I can't really see any other benefits though - he's not going to learn English that way. However, if it will give him an advantage later when he's learning English at school maybe it's worth a shot.


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