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Speaking Multiple Languages


Q: My only child is 3 years and 4 months old. We speak four languages at home. My daughter knows her alphabets in two languages, can name and recognize more than ten colors, count up to 100, draw smiley faces, sing and capture tunes extraordinarily fast, and work on simple puzzles. But she does not express herself in more than two or three familiar words. She repeats questions addressed to her if they are more than four words long, or if she hears unfamiliar sentences that contain familiar words. Also, she seems not to understand verbs and other abstract concepts. Is she autistic?

What are the advantages of knowing two languages?

A: There is considerable debate in the United States today over the issue of bilingualism and how it affects children's general cognitive abilities and also chances for success in school. What is clear, however, is the ability of young children to learn more than one language, beginning right at birth, when they are exposed to multiple language in consistent and meaningful ways.

In my own home, for example, our twins are learning Spanish and English simultaneously. They hear and speak only Spanish with their father, while I communicate with them in English. There are other successful patterns, of course. For example,