(ELI5) when babies are raised with bilingual families, are they learning it as just one jumbled language, or as two separate languages?


Also would it become difficult to discern and seperate them when they join school for example, and interact with people that only speak one

In: 37

Two separate languages, though it might take them a little longer to get conversational.

I’m British, my dad married a French lady, and their little daughter, who is nearly 4, is growing up with both languages. She lives in England, but her mother only speaks French with her, plus she sees her other French relatives when they come over. She can speak both languages to basically the same extent you’d expect from any other English or French girl her age. And she knows who to speak which language with. I have no doubt she’ll grow up with native-level proficiency in both languages. I’m very jealous of her, having 2 native languges and 2 citizenships.

Remember, babies learn based languages based on what they hear. So naturally they start to realise these 2 languages they hear are different things.

Random funny addition, my little sister, when speaking English, occasionally will say specific words in a thick French accent, which presumably she’s heard her mother say. She’ll grow out of that in time, it’s just an interesting side-effect of this.

Research indicates that babies are more likely to pay attention when there is a change in the sounds they hear. If someone speaks one language then switches to another language, a baby will tend to react upon hearing words in a second language. This makes it seem likely that babies can distinguish between separate languages well before they’re able to talk.

They will speak two languages, however, the fluency in each language usually will be different. Only a very small number of kids can speak two languages at true “native” level. One language tend to be worst than another, that even though they have perfect grammar and vocabulary, their accent do have quirks that you don’t see in people who only speak one language. Here are two outcomes that I always see:

A: Perfect accent when speak the school official language, heavy accent speak the parent language

B: Perfect accent when speak parent language, slight accent when speak school official language.


I also see kid who move to another country at 4 years old, pick up perfect accent of this second language, but their native language stuck at a 4 years old level.

As two languages. My wife and me speak different languages with our kids. I speak Dutch, she speaks Frysian. Our kids speak both. They will talk Dutch to me and on school, but Frisian to her and her family.

When they where smaller they did jumble some things, but that is probably my fault, because I jumbled and combined Frisian words in Dutch sentences. For example for milk I used the Frisian “molke” instead of Dutch: “melk”. So now they ask for ” een glaasje molke.”

Our oldest also at 3 already understood that the people in the youtube videos he watches talk English. He actually learned to count in English before in Dutch.
And after a short will started to translate. He would say a number in English and then tell me the Dutch translation. He now is 4, yesterday he said he wanted to play dentist, but the dentist would speak English. His English was at almost the same level as his Dutch. He talks Dutch as a 4 years old, English as a 3 years old.
And when he does not know a word, he will just say the Dutch word but talk as if he has a hot potato in his mouth, to give it some redneck vibe.

Two separate languages. They figure out the differences, it can delay their oral expression for a bit while they sort it out, but they understand that mama and papa are speaking different languages, even if they don’t conceptually understand what « a language » is.