When do young children become aware that people around them communicate in multiple languages? Surely they can understand multiple languages early on, but when do they realize that everything, anything can be communicated in two or more different ways?
My wife and I practice one-parent-one-language at home with our 3-year-old. My wife speaks English, while I use Hebrew. I switch to English when I speak to my wife, but I don’t have any trouble keeping it straight.. it has become somewhat second nature to me.
You can imagine my surprise when my son started translating some of the things I say to him. What gets translated, usually depends on its importance. So if Aba (“Daddy” in Hebrew) announces that we’re having ice cream after dinner, then that’s something Mommy needs to know about post haste!
Another indicator that my son is turning into a little bilingual himself, is when he hears me use a new word, he’ll ask “What Mommy call that?” Once he gets his answer, that pair of words is locked in. I’ve never had to answer this question for the same word twice.
Fruits of my labor… Except it wasn’t very difficult. Mostly fun actually!
About the Author: Davis is fluent in English and Hebrew and can hold his own in French and Turkish. In his spare time he runs BLINGuals™, which markets multilingual games for young children.