In short it’s never too early to start introducing a second language to a child, and it’s never too late to start… on this point there is unanimity among experts. That means that if you have a baby, or you are about to have one, the best thing to do would be to start straight away. The younger a child is the easier it is for him/her to learn another language, it’s all very natural and spontaneous. In fact young children don’t learn a language, they acquire it, as they also acquire the ability to walk, eat on their own, get dressed and draw. Young children don’t go to classes, they do things just for the pleasure of a reward, whether the reward is getting what they want, receiving approval or just the fun of doing things independently. Also starting early has many advantages: it makes it possible to learn the second language accent free, like a native speaker, and it makes it much easier to learn further languages later in life.
However that is not to say that one must start on say one or forget about it, by no means! Any moment is a good moment to start, and there might be many reasons for starting later, may be the family moved somewhere, new people become part of the family circle, or may it’s just that the parents decided that way, as easy as that. In any case one can add a second, or a third, language to a child’s life at any time, only the later it is the more dedication it will require.
It might also be interesting to note that, contrary to common belief, adults learn languages faster than children, because they have more developed analytical skills and memory. However most people have experienced at least once in their life the frustration of learning a new language (anybody who ever struggled with german will know what I am talking about…) In fact adults can learn faster, but need a lot of motivation and are easily frustrated if they don’t proceed as fast as they’d like to. Children instead don’t even know what frustration or mistakes are, they make mistakes and learn the whole time, trying again and again until they achieve what they wanted to do and then set themselves a new goal. This is no small difference!
Anyway raising a bilingual child requires a lot of effort, dedication and perseverance, but the outcome is well worth it…
A small tip, if you decide bilingualism is right for your family, before you jump into it spend some time to think about which methodology would be best for you. There is a method for every family, but no method can suit every family. Here you can find some ideas on how to get started.