Bilingual Baby at 13 months: an update

I can confidently confirm that my baby is bilingual, even though she can't speak yet!

She may not be producing speech in two languages, but she can definitely understand it.  Over the past few months this has become clearer and clearer and her comprehension of what we say seems to have increased in leaps and bounds.

I suppose this is normal at her age; she is absorbing whatever languages she is exposed to.  She is surrounded mostly by Spanish; we live in Mexico and the main language we use to communicate with each other at home is Spanish; her dad and Mexican grandmother usually talk to her in Spanish and so does almost everyone else she comes into contact with here.  I always speak to my daughter in English, but this is the minority language in her case.  Apart from once-a-week Skype calls with my family back home and the occasional English speaker here, I am practically her only source of exposure.

Is your mother tongue always necessarily the language your mother speaks?  I am anxious to make sure that English will be at least as much of a mother tongue for her as Spanish, but feel that I still need to do more.

I hope she will continue to develop both languages on an equal basis.  For the moment, she often surprises me with how much she understands.

Bilingual Baby at 13 months

When Emma was around nine months old, I started to ask her questions about where different objects were, particularly her toys.  With a selection of three or four toys in front of her I could ask her "Where's giraffe?" and she would pick up the giraffe.  She could do the same for the duck and the monkey.  That was a really exciting moment for me, the first "proof " that she could understand what I was saying.

Around the same time she began associating the word "horses" with a tongue-clicking "clip-clop" sound and with the little collection of model horses in the glass-fronted cabinet.  When I asked her, "Where are the horses?" She would start crawling over to the cabinet, clicking her tongue as she went!  She still does that, without prompting; she likes to go and visit the little horses.  Now she pulls herself up and stands in front of the cabinet and the glass is smeared with fingerprints!

I taught her to wave, first to "baby in the mirror"' then, "wave to daddy" and she learned to respond to "clap" and "clap hands", all of these at around nine months, I think, although I don't remember exactly (must remember to write all these things down).  Lately, she's added more instructions to her repertoire; "brush your teeth", "brush your hair", "put the lid on", "take the lid off", "switch the light on/off" and "stamp your feet".  "Give panda/monkey/giraffe a cuddle" is another - she presses her head to whatever/whoever she's cuddling!

Bilingual Baby at 13 months

She has learned to identify many more objects; every day things like nappy, cream, toothbrush, hairbrush, trees.  I ask her, "Where are your feet?" and she sticks a foot in the air.  Shoes and socks she can find whether they're on her feet or not and she knows where her nose is - although she often confuses "your" and "my".  She's learning more body parts with a song we sing, "One little finger".  When she hears it she immediately holds up her finger and taps her head, nose, etc, according to the lyrics.  It's really cute.

All the "Where?" questions are great for playing hide-and-seek with different objects, which Emma loves and never tires of (along with peekaboo). It's a good way to reinforce the names of the objects.

Bilingual Baby at 13 months

Quite early on, along with horse and "clip-clop", she started to associate some other animals with the noises they make and tried to imitate the sound.  She loves dogs, and now when she sees a dog she gets all excited and makes a funny little noise in the back of her throat like a dog's bark! (Maybe I'm trying to be too realistic with the animal noises I'm teaching her, instead of just woof woof!). She makes a similar noise for a duck and a very subtle snort for a pig!  And a new one: "mmmmmm" when she picks up her cow from the Little People farm.

Over the past month, but especially the past two weeks' holiday when I've been at home all day, I've noticed how she is trying to communicate.  She points at things a lot, saying "a, a", which is sometimes easy to decipher and at other times mystifying.  The same happens when she suddenly smiles and points at something - I'm often left wondering what caught her attention.  She waves her hands to say she doesn't want something.  The hand waving can also mean that something is smelly (nappies and feet!) or that she's shooing a fly away (object of great consternation to her these days)

She started saying "mamama" and "bababa" months ago, I don't remember exactly when.  I still don't know if she actually associates me with the word "mama".  She does, after prompting, say "dada" to her daddy.  She has just started occasionally saying "ma" for milk, which was a thrilling moment for me the other day when she first said it.

She said her first word in Spanish quite recently, too.  Her daddy and grandma have been teaching her  to complete the count to three.  They say "uno, dos y ..." and Emma says "te!" (tres is not the easiest number to say).  I have really only been focusing on the English side of her language development here, since that's the part that I'm "responsible" for, but as far as I can tell her comprehension of Spanish is at the same level.

Although she's not exactly talking yet, she is becoming very vocal and has quite a repertoire of noises.  My favourites are the little high-pitched babbling sounds she often makes when she's playing or entertaining herself.  We hear "yeyeyeyeyey", "baba bababa" or a mix of different syllable sounds in a very sing-song intonation so that I'm not sure if she's having a conversation or singing  - either way, it's so sweet and fascinating to listen to.

At other times, she just loves having a good screech!  It's an excruciating noise, but she seems to do it just for the fun of hearing her own voice.

There are times when I could swear she's trying to repeat something I've just said, or a word or phrase in a song we're listening to.  Her imitation skills are not too accurate but sometimes it's obvious that she is imitating what she's just heard.

I've been told that by this age she should be talking more than she is, that she should be able to say several words by now, and that because of her bilingual upbringing she is lagging behind in her speech development.  I don't know.  I would love to hear about other people's experiences with baby and toddler language development, whether bilingual or not, so all relevant comments are welcome!  Feel free to give advice, too.  Do you think there's anything in particular we should be doing to encourage Emma's development?


  1. What a clever daughter you have! It's great watching them develop isn't it? Thanks for sharing with the #BlogFair @mummydoit

    1. Thanks! Yes, it is, it's fascinating seeing her develop and learn new things.

  2. I couldn't remember from my child development course what age their speech should really be developing from, but if this website is anything to go by I would say Emma is right on track, if not a bit advanced in her language development:
    She's a very clever girl! xxx

  3. Thanks for the reference, Alex, I'll have a look at that!