Researchers have now discovered a play-based educational program that is capable of helping babies learn a second language in just one hour per day!
Scientists and parents have always been interested in knowing the advantages of learning a second language. What are these advantages and how do they aid in cognitive development? Bilingualism has been shown to improve cognitive abilities, especially problem-solving skills.
One question that parents and teachers always ask is how can they ignite second language learning? Can babies from monolingual families start to develop bilingual skills if they are given the right kind of opportunities and experiences?
To answer these questions, researchers invented a play-based method and curriculum to teach a second language to babies aged 7-33.5 months. The program is based on the latest brain research on bilingual development and works with high quality and quantity of tutor language, interactions, and active engagement. The first teachers trained on the program were 16 students from the University of Washington. After training at the University of Washington Institute of Learning & Brain Sciences (I-LABS), they sent the students to Madrid to work as English tutors and see if they could teach a second language to babies from Spanish families. They enrolled 280 infants and children from families of varying income levels. Half were randomly assigned to the intervention group and received one hour of English per day, following their method for 18 weeks; and the other half received Madrid’s schools’ standard bilingual program. Both groups of children were tested in Spanish and English at the start and end of the 18 weeks.
Across all measures, the intervention infants showed a greater gain in English comprehension and production. In average, they showed 5 times higher gains in English speaking compared to the control group. Their Spanish continued to grow during the study and was not at all affected by this study.
You might ask yourself, did these babies remember what they had learned? Follow-up testing 18 weeks later proved that these infants had retained what they had learned. Additionally, the English language gains were similar between children who attended two schools in low-income neighborhoods and children who went to schools in mid-income areas. This suggests that wealth was not a factor in their ability to learn a foreign language.
Patricia Kuhl, co-director of the Institute for Learning and Brain Sciences mentions: “Science indicates that babies’ brains are the best learning device on the planet and infants’ learning of languages is time sensitive. The human brain will never be better at learning a second language than during the first 3 years of life”.
This study demonstrates that, regardless of a baby’s background, infants are capable of learning a second language with the right science based approach.