In this article, I’m going to interview Yulia, the mother of Bella, a 4-year old girl who speaks 7 languages.
How many years did Bella speak? How old was Bella when she first spoke a foreign language? In your opinion, what prompted Bella to speak different languages at such a young age?
Bella began to talk at exactly 2 years of age in Russian, English and French. At that time, she studied these 3 languages.
I started talking with Bella in Russian and English from the very first days of her life, and I tried to keep a balance with these languages (ie about the same number of hours per week of communication in both languages).
Within 10 months, we began to slowly introduce French into our everyday communication. But in French we talked much less (3 times a week for 1 hour). Nevertheless, the results in French were no worse than in Russian and English.
Bella perfectly understood speech in all 3 languages and could build sentences of 3-4 words. I think, at the heart of her success lies a sincere interest in communication in different languages.
Bella really likes to communicate in different languages. Most likely, Bella felt that I was interested in learning languages and I was so happy with her successes that she took up my interest in languages too.
I interviewed the British polyglot Richard Simcott (who speaks 30 languages), now he teaches his daughter 5 languages.
From the point of view of the parent, what are the benefits for a child who speaks many languages? Are there any difficulties or disadvantages in this situation? What would be your advice to other parents who want to bring up children in different languages to get the best possible results?
A child who speaks several languages feels very free in communicating with people. Already now I see how Bella communicates freely with children and adults anywhere in the world.
Last year we visited China, Germany, Italy, Australia, USA, Canada, Vietnam, Holland. In each country, Bella had the opportunity to communicate with the locals in their own language (or in English).
In most cases, I see that languages help learn others but sometimes the construction from one language the child carries into other languages. I wrote about this here
The basic rules for the education of artificial multilingual:
1) to start communicating with the child in different languages, you need to start as early as possible, preferably before the end of the first year. Then the child will perceive languages quite naturally without any resistance from outside. The earlier a child begins to hear speech in one or another language, the closer his or her level will be to that of a native.
2) each language should be studied by the immersion method; without using translation into other languages
3) it is necessary to create a positive attitude towards learning the language, i.e. invent interesting activities for communication in the language (for example, fun board games, walks, reading interesting children’s books, etc.
Do you help Bella learn languages, or does she exclusively deal with teachers or native speakers?
I myself deal with Bella in Russian and English. I also read some books with her in French. Sometimes I help teach her Chinese characters. But otherwise Bella speaks languages with teachers who are native speakers.
However, I try to offer the teachers interesting options for conducting the classes.
For example, with the French teacher Bella is engaged in cooking, with the German teacher drawing, with the Chinese teacher it’s music, with the Spanish teacher the studies it’s chemistry.
Also from time to time we arrange entertainment trips in different languages. With her teachers, Bella goes to the zoo, to the amusement park, to the museum, to the aquarium and so on.
How many hours a day does Bella spend studying foreign languages?
Usually, Bella has 3-4 classes of languages a day (each for 1.5 hours).
How do you choose the language that Bella should study? Does she often confuse words from the different languages during a conversation? If so, is she aware of this?
When choosing languages, I take into account how popular this or that language is in the world, and I also try to choose languages from different language groups.
The last language (Italian) Bella chose herself and persuaded me to find an Italian teacher for her. Bella rarely confuses words from different languages.
Usually, if she can not remember the word, she just asks me how this word will be in the right language.
How does Bella communicate with children who speak only one language? Is she trying to talk to them in other languages?
Bella communicates with children in the languages they can speak. If this is only Russian then Bella communicates with him in Russian. If the child speaks different languages, Bella will be happy to talk with him or her in the other languages too.
We also arrange for Bella in our joint home language classes with other children. In those, the teacher speaks each language with 2-3 children at once. Children find it more fun to practice the language in a mini group.
How was Bella’s success on TV for her? Does she realize her popularity as a young polyglot? Do you see any negative or positive points in this?
Many of Bella’s appearances on TV have gained millions of views on the Internet. Now Bella already understands that many people know her because she has performed on TV. She is used to being recognized on the streets in different countries of the world and she takes this notice with joy.
We have not notice any negative influence of fame on her. And we ourselves try to prevent Bella from feeling like a star, a genius, or some sort of special child. Bella is an ordinary child, just in her life sometimes they are shooting her on TV.
Do you think that it is easier for children to learn languages than for adults or not?
It is certainly easier for small children to perceive languages. The most favorable age for learning languages is up to 3 years of age.
Up to 3 years of age, the child learns the language at the subconscious level (without rules and grammar) and only at an older age the child already perceives the language as foreign.
What are your plans for the future? Will Bella learn new languages in the near future? And do you think there are any limitations in the number of languages to be learnt in childhood?
We do not plan to add any new languages but only if Bella herself expresses such a desire . I think if an adult polyglot is able to speak 30-40 languages then for the child there are practically no restrictions on the number of languages.
Provided that the child enjoys learning languages and does so with a positive attitude.
Do you think that Bella can enter the history books by speaking the most languages (like Mezzofanti, for example, who spoke around 40 languages)? Maybe she can even go down in history as the first person to speak 100 languages?
We do not set any ambitious goals for Bella’s future. For us, it’s important that Bella finds a favorite thing in life and does what she really enjoys.
We never planned to publicize this at all even her TV appearance happened quite by accident.
Michael has been an avid language learner and traveler for many years. His goal with LanguageTsar is to discover the most fun and effective ways to learn a language. He is currently learning Japanese, French and Indonesian.