Bilingualism and Babies
The multicultural world in which we live is at once a positive gift and also an educational challenge. If your patrons and classrooms are like the ones I see on a regular basis, you know that the vast majority of children with whom you are reading (and, by extension, their parents) speak another language at home besides English. Some children may only speak another language at home and are expected to learn English at school. Whatever the circumstance, though, incorporating bilingualism/multilingualism into our Early Literacy activities is beneficial both to the children we serve and also to their families and caregivers.
I listened to this interesting podcast recently, about how babies tend to read lips more when they are bilingual than when they are monolingual. What does this mean, exactly? Well, think for a moment about the last time you had a face-to-face conversation with someone. Where were your eyes looking? If you were in a quiet place, they were probably on the other person’s eyes, reading their emotions as they were talking to you. What about if you were in a noisy place? You were probably focusing on the other person’s mouth since your ears could not hear as well, so you may have missed some of the emotion that the other person was trying to convey. When children are paying attention to others’ mouths, they are absorbing data about how to speak. This can include the shape of the person’s mouth as he/she is speaking, how to form certain words, etc. If you are in the process of learning a second (or third, or fourth…) language, this is a great way to learn how to pronounce these new words!
This data is interesting for us as Early Literacy professionals, as well, because it gives us some context clues as we are presenting our storytimes. As we’re speaking to young children, it is particularly important that we make sure they can clearly see our lips moving, that we are enunciating clearly, and that we are using inflection in our delivery. Since they are likely not watching our faces, the ability to hear our emotions is imperative to their ability to understand. A great early literacy tip could revolve around this topic! “Grownups, did you know that your baby is watching you speak as he/she is learning how to form words? This is a great reason to use proper language with them and enunciate your words to ensure that they build the strongest possible language foundation.”