Bilingual Babies

The fastest and most efficient language learners in the world are actually babies! I recently watched a TED talk about this topic. Naja Ferjan Ramirez discussed the key difference in regards to brain activity between monolingual and bilingual babies. Her research was specific to babies that were only exposed to english, and babies who had caregivers that also spoke Spanish in addition to english. Ramirez’s research showed that while both monolingual and bilingual babies were processing the sounds of the English language, monolingual babies were able to to process the sounds of English and Spanish.

What I personally found very interesting during this TED talk was the second set of findings of Ramirez’s research. She claims that bilingual babies showed significantly more brain activity in the prefrontal cortex, which is the part of our brain that is responsible for our attention, switching to different tasks, and executive function. She explains how this might be the result of these babies having to constantly switch from processing one language to the other. That must mean that when these babies grow up and become adults, they will be that much better at multi-tasking and more skilled at completing tasks that require cognitive-flexibility.

In her conclusion, Ramirez spoke about how beneficial it would be for parents to have access to an environment in public education where their babies can learn different languages at a very early age. I personally felt very inspired by this idea! Especially because I have spent over six years working at daycare and can attest to this concept. I have seen babies who come from a monolingual (English) household pronounce Arabic words very clearly and very native like. I hope that our education system adopts this idea so that the future generation of babies will all be equipped with these cognitive skills.

Creating bilingual minds. (2017). YouTube . Retrieved September 9, 2022, from 

2 thoughts on “Bilingual Babies

  1. While I totally agree with your conclusion that parents should be encouraged to include different languages in a child’s environment (perhaps from heritage languages)- I think that the hopeful expectation of having non-native speaking children pronounce words in other languages almost native-like is a bit too idealistic. As a parent of a multilingual child, it seems her experience with different languages has had quite the opposite effect so far, in that she pronounces words in all her languages in an accent that doesn’t quite fit any of her languages.

    I’m all for your approach and the thought of it being included in the educational system, but perhaps more emphasis should be placed on the cognitive skills and less so on children’s awesome linguistic output.

  2. I think part of the reason monolingual children are able to speak or understand other languages clearly at a young age is due to perceptual narrowing! Perceptual narrowing is this idea that infants begin to lose the ability to phonemicly discriminate sounds that hold no meaning in their native language. As a result, they are unable to identify those markers or phonological contrasts that aren’t applicable to their native language. Perhaps these monolingual babies are more receptive to speech sounds in their environment whereas the bilingual babies have become more selective in what they hear.

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