Researchers have known for years that babies have a preference for the sound of their mother’s voice. A preference they show by turning their head towards the sound of their mother, and increase suckling.

Recently researchers asked if a baby born to a bilingual mother would have a preference for one language over the other. If a child’s mother is bilingual, which language would the baby prefer? The mother’s first language, or the second?

The answer is both — and then some.

In the study, (published June 6, 2012 by Francois Grosjean, Ph.D. in Life as a Bilingual), researchers studied children born to bilingual mothers — who spoke English and Tagalog — and children born to monolingual mothers.

When the babies were exposed the sounds of language, researchers watched the baby’s suckling behavior: an increase in suckling showed a baby’s increased interest in a language.

In the study, babies born to bilingual mothers showed interest in both of the mother’s languages — English and Tagalog. Babies born to monolingual mothers showed an interest only in their mother’s first language.

Tuned in to a new language

In the same study, researchers introduced a third language, Chinese, which is similar to Tagalog, and the babies born to bilingual mothers also responded with suckling to the sound of the new language. Babies born to a monolingual mother seemed to show no additional interest.

“The authors concluded that the acquired interest in the two languages these infants had been exposed to could help them pay attention to the languages and hence acquire them in their first years of life ….. IF they were raised in a bilingual environment, of course.”


Clever Cows

Create a bilingual environment and nurture early language learning with ABC English & Me. Try this activity:

No matter how you say it — love, giliw, or 爱 — your child loves the sound of your voice. The ability to hear and distinguish between sounds in English or any other language is called phonemic awareness, and is a skill critical to school success and learning to read. And because nursery rhymes are often silly and fun to say, they are particularly developmentally appropriate for very young English learners!

By watching and listening to (over and over again) this Clever Cows video, and learning this simple nursery rhyme, your child is developing his or her rhyming, word segmentation, and sound discrimination skills; enriching her growing English vocabulary; and being introduced to basic story structures such as beginning and end, problem and solution, and cause and effect. Don’t forget to count the cows when you are done: 1, 2, 3, 4!

See more music and movement activities featuring the Clever Cows, music, and second language learning at

ABC English & Me - Teaching English to Children through Music

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