A child speaks English while playing with her friends, but turns around and asks her mother a question in Spanish. A grandmother sings a Spanish-language counting song to her grandson; his mother tells him in English to put on his coat. The little boy responds to both languages.
You may have seen similar scenarios on the playground, in your child's school, at the grocery store -- or even in your own household. Today, one in every five children in the U.S. is of Hispanic heritage; being bilingual is fairly common.
Many Hispanic moms new to the U.S. want to maintain ties to their countries of origin or to their culture by preserving their language and passing traditions on to their children. At the same time, Latino families know their children must be able to speak English to be successful in the U.S.
The kids are comfortable either way! Why does it seem so natural for a child to be able to switch back and forth from English to Spanish, when adults often struggle to learn a new language?
We learn language most easily during early childhood, explains Dr. Kathleen Alfano, Director of Child Research at Fisher-Price. In fact, the older the child, the more difficult it is to imprint the sounds, rhythms, and grammatical structures of another language on the brain.
That's because the child's brain is not only more sensitive to nuances of sound and meaning, but also more likely to retain them by literally creating the pathways necessary to process the information, an ability that fades with each passing year.
Most bilingual children are not confused by two sets of vocabulary, grammar, and pronunciation because they have the extra brain pathways to accommodate the learning
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