I am, as you must understand, head over heels in love with my (trilingual) baby boy. And even though he is our fourth child, and being raised trilingual just like his older brother and sisters, we are every bit as amazed (if not more) to see his multilingual progress. It’s magical!
So when should a multilingual baby start speaking and how many words should he say?
This is a common question amongst parents raising their children multilingually, especially if there is a concern that learning multiple languages might confuse an infant or cause language delay. It’s a hard question to answer because so many factors need to be taken into consideration, such as the baby’s environment and his own developmental rhythm. However, to help you find answers to this question, I’ve included several articles by the Multilingual Children Association at the end of this post. And just to give a bit of perspective, here’s a brief summary of my son Rémy’s multilingual progress. He is 16 months old.
These are some words he says:
- “Mama” and “Papa” are used to refer to his mommy and daddy, but he also uses them to mean his brother and sisters.
- “Pain” (pronounced like pan but with a nasal n). As in bread in French.
- Yes/no – he says by nodding or shaking his head. If he knows he’s not supposed to do something, he might even shake his finger.
- “Dodo” – to go to sleep for children in French.
- “Doudou” – a soft cuddly animal that he takes to sleep with him.
- “Mmm. Bon.” When he wants to tell us something tastes or smells good.
- “Meow, meow.” Cat.
- “Ba-ba.” As in bye-bye, but also if he sees someone getting shoes and coats on or if we are leaving somewhere.
- “Up!” He says this if someone picks him up or if he climbs stairs.
- “Ball” pronounced BO!!!! No doubt about it, one of his favorite words! He says this when he sees a ball or any round object that looks like a ball!
- “Vrrrrrrrr…..” The sound his cars make when he rolls them across the floor.
- “Bravo!” (or most often “Ba-vo!”). When he claps his hands.
- “Sshhhh!” When he knows he’s supposed to be quiet. He also puts his pointer finger across his pursed lips.
These are some words he understands:
- Chocolate. He understands this in all three languages.
- Bottle of milk/biberon/biberon.
- Come here/ven aqui/viens ici.
- “Soft-soft.” This is what we tell him in all three languages when he hits and he obeys by caressing the person’s cheek or arm.
- Close your eyes/ciera los ojos. (This he only understands in context, right before putting him to bed.)
- “Taz-taz“. A made-up word in Spanish meaning a gentle spank on his bottom.
Many of these words have been an important part of our play times together. To learn how to test your baby’s language development through play, follow the link. I speak to my baby in English and Spanish and so it’s easier for me to measure his progress in those two languages than in French, but by simple observation, I am also able to see his progress when he interacts with his Papa or his brother and sisters who speak to him in French.
I hope reading about my baby’s progress has helped you gain a small window of perspective about how a child can progress in multiple languages, but it’s important to remember that each child progresses at his or her own rhythm. Rémy may be well on his way to becoming trilingual, but he is not walking yet! He knows how to walk, but chooses not to! I like to think that it’s because his little mind is just too busy with all three languages!
Finally, these are the articles I mentioned earlier in my post that will give you professional guidelines about measuring your baby’s language development during his first three years of life, respond to your concerns about late talkers, give you advice if you wish to seek professional advice, and address the special needs of children with developmental issues.
- First Year Language Development
- Second Year Language Development
- Third Year Language Development
- Late Talker
- Tips on seeking professional advice
- Multilingualism and special needs
Best of luck to you in your multilingual endeavors and please do share your story with me in the comments below. And although I am not a professional, I am happy to answer any questions you might have.