I would very much appreciate your advice on the following situation in our family. My husband and I live in England with our 1-month old son. My mother tongue is Polish, and my husband’s is French. Since our baby’s birth we have been following the OPOL strategy, but now we are planning to hire a nanny to look after our son when I return to work full-time – he will be 3 months old then.
However, we are not sure whether we should choose a nanny who is a native English speaker or it does not matter at this age. As we are planning to send our child to an English nursery at around one year of age, my husband thinks that it is not important at this stage which language the nanny speaks as long as it is a good nanny because our baby is very young and the exposure to the nanny’s language will only last for several months (before he can speak).
What do you think?
We would be very grateful for your advice.
Thank you for your submitting your question to the Multilingual Parenting Language Coaching Team!
Congratulations on your new baby. He’s a lucky little boy to be surrounded by so many beautiful languages. I commend you for taking the time to think about your son’s first year and what his exposure to the home languages will be like.
Based on your question, it seems that you are wondering how your son’s language will be influenced in those early months. I am glad you asked this question because as parents we do not always have insights into how our children’s language is developing before they start producing those first few words.
I often say that if you can, you should strive to expose your child to as much of your target language as you can from an early age. But I know that is not always possible.
I also often say that it is never too late to start learning a language. I did not speak any English really until right before my 13th birthday.
The fact that you will likely need to have a nanny that only speaks your community language, English, is not going be detrimental for your son’s language development. There are still plenty of things that she can do to help his progress along!
What I’d like to do is share with you what is happening developmentally for your son during these early months. I will also share with you how an English speaking nanny can help you with his language development.
Let’s start with the really early months, the 0-6 month range, which are often referred to as the “pre-babble” stage.
There are two key elements that I would like you to focus on before your son turns 6 months.
Stimulate vowel sounds
Babies begin to talk by making vowel sounds regardless of which languages are around them. You can hear these little vowel sounds really early when your son squeals in delight as you play with them. You can ask your nanny to attempt at stimulating these vowel sounds during the day while they spend time together.
Some fun ways of doing so is by:
- Making playful vowel sounds in the mirror with your baby or
- Associating certain sounds with certain actions. For example, always saying “Oooh” when giving your baby a hug.
Making funny noises
After producing vowel sounds children typically progress to making noises. A common baby noise you may have heard in the past is “grrr.” Before six months, it can be very beneficial for parents and caretakers to encourage our littlest ones to produce their own noises.
Playing peekaboo for example can be particularly helpful. If you do this activity over and over, your child can eventually join in the fun by saying “booo!”
It may seem silly but just as children cannot run without learning to walk first, they cannot talk without going through the vowels and noises stage.
Speakers of any language can work with your son on vowels and noises so capitalize on this opportunity.
Now let’s talk about the babble phase and identify what your nanny can help you with to promote language development as a whole.
Let me give you a glimpse into all the things that your will learn to do in the 6 to 12 month age range. Most children exhibiting normal development will learn during this time period to babble, listen, nod, wave, clap, point, sign, understand what others are communicating to him just to name a few exciting milestones!
These may sound like simple concepts but these are a big deal for little minds.
Here are some things you and your child’s caretaker can do to stimulate these important building blocks for language development:
- Encourage your child to babble by repeating with delight the noises he is making.
- Enhance his listening skills by making lots of noises when you play together.
- Work on gestures like pointing, waving and bye-bye by modeling them over and over.
- Consider introducing sign language. It can give babies a head start in learning how to intentionally communicate.
- Develop his understanding of what is said to him by using repetitive language and using a predictable routine.
- Read lots and lots of books together
One word of caution is that I am not by any means implying that your caretaker should be silent around your child and only work on the skills listed above. On the contrary!
But my goal here is to show you that language development is much more than just hearing and producing words. Instead there are many building blocks that must come before your son can begin to communicate and your caretaker can help you facilitate that process regardless of the language he or she speaks to your son!
Best of luck on the road ahead. You certainly have some really fun months ahead of you!