How Many Languages Can Children Learn at the Same Time?
“How many languages can kids actually learn at the same time?”
It’s a question I’m asked a lot by mamas in our Cultured Home crew.
The super-quick answer?
Kids (including toddlers) can learn to speak multiple languages at the same time. 2, 3, 4….or more languages at once.
If you’re like WOAH…...check out this mini-language genius for even more WOAH-ness! At just 4, Bella Devyatkina could speak six foreign languages plus her native Russian!
But the number of languages your child can learn simultaneously really depends on a variety of factors. So, let’s dive into the longer answer to that question.
Your child can learn multiple languages if…..
You give them enough exposure
The amount of exposure your child has to multiple languages will play the biggest role in how well they get a handle on each one.
Parents can come up with all kinds of strategies to promote language exposure at home!
Let’s say in a family, you’ve got mum who is a native speaking Italian, dad who speaks English and in addition to Italian and English, they’d love their 3-year-old daughter to learn Chinese too. Neither mum or dad speak Chinese themselves.
Mama is speaking constantly with her toddler in Italian while dad is speaking to her in English, so exposure to these 2 languages is happening all throughout the day in a natural, unstructured way.
Together, mum and dad are consistently teaching her Chinese 30 minutes a day using videos, flashcards, and reading together, etc.
With 30 minutes a day, every day, their little one will absolutely learn words, phrases and understand Chinese in time. She just may not learn as quickly, or as to the same level of fluency as Italian and English because the level of exposure is different.
Depending on the level of fluency you want your child to reach, you have to ask yourself if you can match the amount of exposure needed for that goal on a daily basis.
You have the right resources to create different types of exposure
For all the amazing ability our kiddos have to learn like crazy - especially languages - when they are young, without the right learning resources and consistent exposure on a daily basis they probably won’t progress too far.
If you want them to learn Italian and French, set yourself up with the right tools and activities to create a variety of ways to expose them to the new languages.
Books, flash-cards, video lessons, cartoons, games, and other play-based activities create a great mix of resources and you can see which one your kiddos are naturally drawn too.
I discovered pretty quickly when it comes to language learning that kids love to play, so I created a huge variety of lessons resources that will help you introduce a language to your kids, in a really fun and play based manner and I'm sharing them here for you to use too!
If you’re a non-native speaker, teaching your child 2 or 3 new languages is absolutely possible (yes, really!) but you need to give them enough exposure to the native tongue too.
They need to hear the accents and flow of the language from a native speaker, which can be introduced with video lessons or a native speaking tutor or nanny.
Your consistent with lessons and activities:
Just because your kids have the natural ability to learn multiple languages at once, doesn’t mean they’ll develop real language skills without a consistent, sustained effort.
This doesn’t mean you have to get all super structured and hard-task-master about this! Don’t zap the fun and joy of this journey by being too inflexible with lessons and activities. BUT you do have to be consistent, I’m talking daily consistency here.
If you want your child to learn Mandarin and French, spending an hour a week on lessons will not a multi-lingual child make!
A popular way bilingual parents introduce two-second languages simultaneously is by having each parent only speak in their native language during certain times of the day, or during particular activities.
You can still do this if you’re a non-native speaker, playtime at the park with dad might be time for Mandarin and preparing dinner with mum could be time for French. There’s plenty of ways to work it!
You set a language fluency goal
I’ve talked about how to set language fluency goals before, but it’s a point worth covering again - especially in the case of learning more than 2 languages at once.
Why do you want your child to become multi-lingual?
Do you want to share the heritage language of your family or help your child learn a foreign language that could put them ahead in their career years down the track?
We know there are plenty of benefits for teaching our little ones a new language, even if they never become fluent, but it’s helpful to focus on a specific reason.
Let’s go back to the earlier example of our little Italian / English and Chinese speaking family.
The goal for their toddler might be fluency in Italian as well as English but for Chinese, maybe the goal is passive bilingual - she’s able to understand it and can speak some words and simple phrases in the language.
She’ll have the foundations for Chinese if she’s interested in continuing with it herself as she gets older. However, the main focus of language learning while she’s young is developing fluency in Italian.
If you want your child to learn 2 or 3 languages in addition to English but don’t have a real goal for each one, you won’t be clear on what language to focus on the most.
Again, it all comes back to exposure!
You don’t lose sight of having FUN with new languages
Learning 3, or even 4 languages at childhood is absolutely possible, but it totally depends on the time you’re willing to put in….and your child’s willingness to learn.
Don’t overload your kiddo with your expectations or get too caught up in trying to teach them so many multiple languages that the FUN part of gets lost in the whole process.
In fact, little language wiz Bella Devyatkina’s mama says her learning process has never been anything but fun, and actually made a lot of effort to avoid the traditional style of lessons!
I'd love to know what languages would you teach your kiddos if you could raise the multi-lingual?
Now You're 1 Step Ahead on the Kids Language Adventure - Here's How You Can Keep Going!