Resource

Understanding bilingualism in the early years

Added 09 Aug 2017
Kids in masks

More children in the world grow up bilingual than monolingual. Having more than one language is something that should be celebrated, promoted and supported. Bilingualism stimulates brain development and helps children learn because they can think about their ideas in two (or more) languages.  

Speaking more than one language comes naturally to babies, whose brains are wired for all language. A child who develops good use of their home language (sometimes also called their mother tongue) is more likely to develop good English.  But if parents use English instead, children can lose their mother tongue, neither language will progress and the child may have problems in both languages.

At a very young age, a child learns to distinguish and develop the differences between languages used with them and around them. Families should continue to use their home language, talking to their child from the earliest age onwards. This is central for the child's communication, social, and emotional development.  Language feeds the brain and links us to our family, our community and our friends. This is vital for a young child's sense of self. 

Practitioners and professionals working with learners whose first language is not English should develop a good understanding of the child's linguistic and cultural background when they enter a nursery or school and work collaboratively with families.