I am so grateful that my children are exposed to a variety of tones due to living in different countries and interacting with several people from diverse cultures. They are exposed to the subtle tonal sound variations at such an early age that it becomes so natural to them to differentiate and hear when they are older. They are exposed to English and its numerous accents, Arabic and its classical as well as its everyday dialects, Thai and Filipino. They also attend an International School and therefore are exposed to even more languages than the ones spoken at home.
My daughter, who has just recently turned two, listens to the different local birds around her, here in Bangkok, and mimics their calls. I remember the first time her father and I realized what she was doing and how it took us by surprise. We heard her making these sounds after the birds had sung their tune. It was hilarious and made us think that she had a gift of speaking to animals. We thought that it would disappear after a few months but she still does it all the time especially when she sits behind me on my bike. It is amazing how children are so aware of their surroundings.
My son, who is 5, is also extremely aware of the different tones used in languages such as Thai. I find it hard sometimes to hear the subtle difference in the language even though I speak two languages and can get by in a third. Still I find my son correcting me occasionally. In Thailand, they have 3 different ways to say ‘gao’ and they mean three totally different things…. Beats me which one I am supposed to use in which situation… and if I use one when I am supposed to use the other, the lovely people of Thailand giggle. My son corrects his Canadian father’s Arabic pronunciation as well so I am thrilled that I am not the only one being corrected.
I believe that if we exposed children to different languages when they are young it would make learning a new language easier when they are older.... it some how helps them make neuron connections in the brain. People used to think that exposing children to so many languages would confuse them and they would not be fluent in one or any of the languages they are exposed to. But according to studies in Neuroscience and language, bilingual children can developed more advanced minds than monolingual children and can out perform them on several cognitive tasks.
Check out the study on this website: