Not long ago we thought that if we laid a speaker on our pregnant bellies and played Mozart, our babies would be born brilliant. That myth has since been laid to rest (check out our show on Music and Your Child), but now there's evidence that what our babies hear in utero will affect them later.
Janet Werker, professor of psychology at the University of British Columbia, and her colleagues have just published a study showing that newborns who were exposed to two languages while still in the womb are better prepared to become bilingual. This is fascinating. We just did a show on Language and Learning and found out that our old ideas of keeping things simple for kids when they are young and adding second or third languages later is wrong. Children's brains are wired for language from the day they are born, and now it seems, before they're born. The earlier they are exposed to other languages, the better. It's not that they can't learn them when they are older - it's just that for the first few years of life, learning language is their big job.
Our guests on Your Voice said that children don't have to be immersed in other languages, but consistent exposure is necessary. That may mean lots of visits with a grandma who speaks another language, immersion programmes in school, or even just reading simple children's books in second or third languages at home. Children who are learning English as a second language should definitely continue to hear and speak their first language. Now it seems they can begin their language education before they're even born.