How can children learn several languages at a time at a very young age (like 3-4 years) and not confuse words?



Also: does it hinder their progress at each language?

In: Biology

Something I remember hearing about a long time ago, about people who speak more than one language, is that they tend to have different personalities with each language.

That could be construed as tone, pitch, emotion, rhythm, gestures, posture, and so many other little things that people pick up on, especially at a subconscious level.

Children are very good at picking this sort of thing up because their brains are much more receptive to taking in information and parsing it out. It’s a big reason why babies who are talked to like adults, rather than with the goo goo gah gah baby voice, learn to speak at a younger age.

From personal experience, when I was in high school I was super obsessed with Rammstein, and then from there it expanded out to other German bands like Oomph and Megaherz. I got to a point where I could muddle my way through a conversation in German, and one of the things I still remember vividly is that when I was practicing the language, it felt like my brain had to physically change gears, so to speak, in order for me to get into a German “mode”. If I had the presence of mind back then to record myself and play it back, I probably wouldn’t recognize myself because of the difference.

Children do confuse words at that age, even if they only learn one language. They’ll have an easier time keeping languages separate if each person they know only speaks one language, but there’s still going to be some mangled vocabulary.

When you’re little, you’re the smartest you’ll ever be in your life at any given time. Your brain is a sponge that absorbs all of the basic building blocks needed to learn a language.

All language is is a series of repeated patterns.

The more languages you’re exposed to when young, the higher the chances are of learning those different linguistic structural patterns and retaining them.

As you get older, your ability to retain that information lessens bc you’ve likely become dominant in obtaining one specific language pattern. If you grew up bilingual, your brain has become accustomed to sorting out the proper pattern for two languages. So in English you learn the pattern “I went to the store” and the Spanish pattern would be “The store is where I went.”

Language takes practice, which is why a toddler will often babble and make up words all the while seemingly doing so in a structured order.

My toddler can now say “Es. Peas tange me. Imma poo poo.” She’s saying “Yes. Please change me. I went poo poo.” She’s heard a variety of those words over and over and has learned the language pattern, so even though it’s not fully developed, she understands the meaning of that pattern and the order it goes in.

It’s similar to learning to count 1-10 and then counting down from 10 to 1. Both are correct ways to count, but are different patterns using the same information. This is why you’re able to translate “Adios” to “Goodbye”. They’re the same basic linguistic principle and the same information, but different patterns.

Their brains meticulously take statistics of which other words they hear those words with, like correlations.