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Babies are highly adept at learning more than 1 language. Whānau can do things to encourage this ability in pēpi.

Some families may not fully understand their newborn’s capacity to learn more than 1 language.

Ask whānau:

  • What languages are spoken in your whānau?
  • Does anybody speak more than 1 language?
  • Do you?
  • How did you learn it?
  • How do you think a baby could learn more than 1 language?

Natural language learners

Encourage discussion and confirm these facts with whānau:

  • From birth, babies can pick the difference between the speech sounds for every language used in the world.
  • Babies begin to lose this ability in the second half of their first year, as brain connections strengthen for the sounds they hear.

Connections for sounds they don’t often hear become fragile and may disappear.

  • It’s much easier to learn a second language in the early years.
  • Babies learn language through their close relationships.
  • Babies learn from ‘live’ language used in everyday interactions, not from audio or video.
  • Babies all learn language at their own pace.
  • Babies may use words from both languages in one sentence, but this will sort itself out as they develop more language skills.
  • It becomes more difficult for children to learn a second language from about 7 years old.
  • Is there anything here that surprises you or you didn’t know already?

Helping baby learn another language

If the whānau are keen to introduce another language into their home, encourage them and offer suggestions for what might help.

  • Would you like baby to learn another language?
  • What would that be?

Tips for whānau to help baby learn another language:

  • Start as early as possible.
  • Make sure baby can see your face when you’re talking, so baby learns which mouth movements go with which sounds.
  • Rhymes, songs, stories and books are other good ways to share languages with baby.
  • Singing is great for language learning – whatever the language.

How does this relate to the Tākai resources?

Baby wall frieze – Kōrero mai mō tō tātou whānau – teach me about our family

Six things children need – Te kōrero me te whakarongo – talking and listening

Helpful resources for whānau