Bilingual Baby Brains

June 2019

Full interview with Dr. Naja Ferjan Ramirez:

SEATTLE, Wash. (Ivanhoe Newswire) — A study from the University of Washington’s Institute for Learning and Brain Sciences says it’s never too early to expose kids to two languages. Researchers measured brain waves and found that, by 11 months of age, infants can recognize and process sounds from both Spanish and English. This bilingual recognition can give them an advantage as they learn more.

Daniel Perez and Jenny Ring-Perez started speaking Spanish to Camilla and Alessandra at birth.

“I was really committed that these girls really have Spanish as one of their languages so that they can really know themselves as being also from Costa Rica,” Jenny told Ivanhoe.

They also had Spanish-speaking teachers and time with Daniel’s family in Costa Rica.

“What I noticed is that the phonetics [are] pretty impressive to see, when they started speaking, how they were able to do all the sounds,” said Daniel.

That’s what Naja Ferjan Ramirez found in her study. She measured brain waves from 11-month-olds and found that these children are already learning the language or languages they’ve been hearing.

“At the time that they’re getting ready to say their first words, they’re already primed to do that,” detailed Ferjan Ramirez.

Bilingual babies showed strong responses to both languages and had stronger brain responses in areas that are responsible for executive function. Ferjan Ramirez said the infant brain is capable of learning two languages simultaneously.

“If we give babies an opportunity to experience a second language during infancy and early childhood, they will be able to—should be able to—develop native-like fluency,” explained Ferjan Ramirez.

Researchers at the Institute for Learning and Brain Sciences say that a child who hears only one language will lose the ability to distinguish between sounds that don’t occur in English, while a bilingual child will continue to be able to differentiate those sounds.

Contributors to this news report include: Cyndy McGrath, Supervising Producer; Wendy Chioji, Field Producer; Roque Correa, Editor; Bruce Maniscalco, Videographer.

Produced by Child Trends News Service in partnership with Ivanhoe Broadcast News and funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation.

Thank you to Dr. Naja Ferjan Ramirez for contributing footage that was used in the b-roll.


Spanish Translation

SEATTLE, Wash. (Ivanhoe Newswire) — Un estudio del Instituto para el Estudio de la Ciencias del Cerebro de la Universidad de Washington determinó que los padres bilingües deben de hablar a sus hijos en ambos idiomas desde el momento en que nacen. Los expertos midieron las ondas cerebrales de los bebés y determinaron que a los once meses podían distinguir y procesar palabras en inglés y español.

Daniel Pérez y Jenny Ring-Pérez comenzaron a hablarles en español a sus hijas Camila y Alessandra desde que nacieron. También han tenido niñeras y profesores hispanoparlantes y se mantienen en contacto con su familia en Costa Rica. Naja Ferjan Ramírez, PhD, midió las ondas cerebrales de bebés que crecían en un ambiente bilingüe, y determinó que a los 11 meses ya estaban aprendiendo los idiomas que escuchaban. El estudio demostró que los cerebros de los bebés bilingües respondían firmemente a ambos idiomas y tenían reacciones más fuertes en las áreas responsables de las funciones ejecutivas. Según esta experta, el cerebro de un recién nacido es capaz de aprender dos idiomas simultáneamente.

Los expertos del Instituto para el Estudio de la Ciencias del Cerebro de la Universidad de Washington afirman que un niño que habla solo un lenguaje como el inglés, por ejemplo, perderá la habilidad de reconocer sonidos que no se producen en inglés, mientras que un niño bilingüe continuara pudiendo distinguir esos sonidos.

Los contribuyentes a este reportaje incluyen: Cyndy McGrath, Supervisora Productora; Wendy Chioji, Productora de Campo; Roque Correa, Editor; Bruce Mansicalo, Camarografo.

Producido por Child Trends News Service en asocio con Ivanhoe Broadcast News y auspiciado por una beca de la National Science Foundation.