New research finds that bilingual infants as young as 20 months of age can accurately process two languages.
Are two languages at a time too much for the infant mind? According to a recent study, babies as young as 20 months can understand a lot more than you’d think. In a new study, a team of researchers, including those from Princeton University, reported that bilingual infants as young as 20 months of age efficiently and accurately process two languages.
The study found that infants can differentiate between words in different languages. “By 20 months, bilingual babies already know something about the differences between words in their two languages,” said co-author Casey Lew-Williams. “They do not think that ‘dog’ and ‘chien’ [French] are just two versions of the same thing. They implicitly know that these words belong to different languages,” Lew-Williams added.
To determine infants’ ability to monitor and control language, the researchers showed 24 French-English bilingual infants and 24 adults in Montreal pairs of photographs of familiar objects. Participants heard simple sentences in either a single language (“Look! Find the dog!”) or a mix of two languages (“Look! Find the chien!”). In another experiment, they heard a language switch that crossed sentences (“That one looks fun! Le chien!”). These types of language switches, called code switches, are regularly heard by children in bilingual communities.