What is it about?

Many children around the world grow up bilingual, but their experience with their two languages may differ depending on the approach of how caregivers use the two languages with them and the bilingual community they grow up in. Some bilingual children tend to hear one language at a time, while others hear more frequent switching between languages, often with immediate translations of vocabulary words. How do these patterns of language shape children’s learning of new words? Does using one language at a time reduce complexity, or is it fine to switch languages often? We created a game the children could play on a tablet to explore if these two language switching patterns would have different impacts on word learning in 3- to 5-year-old bilingual children. We found that children from either French-English and Spanish-English bilingual families learned new words well during the game, with no differences between the two different switching patterns.

Featured Image

Why is it important?

Our study speaks to a critical question often raised by caregivers raising bilingual children: Is there a better way to introduce new words so that their bilingual children learn them in both languages? Our findings highlight that it does not matter if bilingual children hear a translation immediately or more separated in time, because both types of bilingual interaction provide equally meaningful learning opportunities for bilingual children’s word learning. We therefore provide new evidence that may ease caregivers’ concerns about how to best support their bilingual children’s language development. Our takeaway is that, rather than following a strict approach to the use of language with their children, bilingual caregivers should interact with their children in a way that they are most comfortable.


Different bilingual families may engage in different types of bilingual interactions with their children depending on their needs, and no language strategy should be considered as the “best”. We hope the findings motivate caregivers to focus less on restricting themselves to speak to their children in a specific way, but instead focus more on interacting more with their children to create opportunities for meaningful exposure to both languages.

Rachel Ka-Ying Tsui
RIKEN Center for Brain Science

Read the Original

This page is a summary of: Patterns of language switching and bilingual children’s word learning: An experiment across two communities., Translational Issues in Psychological Science, June 2023, American Psychological Association (APA),
DOI: 10.1037/tps0000353.
You can read the full text:



The following have contributed to this page