Publishing Partner: Cambridge University Press CUP Extra Publisher Login

The LINGUIST List is dedicated to providing information on language and language analysis, and to providing the discipline of linguistics with the infrastructure necessary to function in the digital world. LINGUIST is a free resource, run by linguistics students and faculty, and supported by your donations. Please support LINGUIST List during the 2017 Fund Drive.

Ask-A-Linguist Message Details

Subject: Teaching Multilingual Children
Question: Hello, I was wondering is there a limit to how many children a toddler can acquire. Currently we have 12 foreign nannies that speak to our children in their language for a certain period of the time. My wife and I were wondering if this could be achieved or would it just confuse our twins?
Reply: Hi, I believe you want to know how many LANGUAGES a toddler can acquire (rather than how many CHILDREN...). The answer is a difficult one as the situation you describe is rather vague. You say 12 foreign nannies speak to your twins for 'a certain period of time'...What exactly does that mean? How long is 'a certain period of time'? How regularly? How old are your 'toddlers'? Theoretically, there seem to be no limits to the number of languages a child can acquire...Of course, 12 languages at a time seems to be somewhat problematic. The problem is that there is a maxim which says 'Use it or lose it!' I don't imagine your twins get exactly the same exposure to all 12 languages...which means they're not going to learn all 12. According to the literature on bilingual or multilingual language acquisition in children, they do show a certain lag in learning the languages compared to monolingual children, but this lag is usually of short duration and bi/multi-lingual children 'catch up' and even surpass monolingual children in language ability. On the other hand, I've never heard of children learning 12 languages at a time!
Reply From: Robert A Papen      click here to access email
Date: 25-Jul-2013
Other Replies:
  1. Re: Teaching Multilingual Children    Anthea Fraser Gupta     (25-Jul-2013)

Back to Most Recent Questions