Why raising bilingual children is “a must”…

A spare hour between two meetings today called for catching up on e-mails with a delicious latte made with locally roasted coffee at Carolina Roasters… nothing like the comforting smell and delicious taste of freshly roasted coffee to boost my productivity level! More often than not, I associate a place, its warmth and smell with events and people. That cup of coffee took me back to the days of the local French ladies monthly “petit-déjeuner”, where I used to enjoy getting to know other “French ex-pats” and bilingual moms. 

I recalled a conversation about a shared passion for raising bilingual children, where we shared personal experiences about ways to achieve a native level of fluency in two to three languages. “It is important that each parent or caregiver speaks their native language only to the child, for consistency and to help the child associate a language with each person involved in their upbringing.”, said one mom. “That is what we did with our two children, and I was amazed to see that instead of learning things slower as some would expect, my children learned twice as much vocabulary as other children… If they learn about biology in one language, they then discuss it at home in the other!” 

There has been a lot of research over the years about the benefits of exposing children to a foreign language a young age, with the formation of additional pathways in the brain and the ability to create any speech sounds (“phonèmes” in French) before the age of 3 years old. But the truth of the matter is, more and more parents understand that having the ability to speak a second language gives their children an advantage in the global marketplace. The question is: how can American parents expose their children to a foreign language if they only speak English or work full-time? 

Simple: according to an article in The New York Times posted an article on August 18, 2010 entitled “Looking for Babysitters: Foreign Language a Must“, they hire bilingual childcare providers who can help their children learn a second language through study & play. Whether the children are already learning that language in school and parents needs an after-school care provider who can help with homework and practise, or they have infants and pre-schoolers whom they want to learn foreign sounds, the trend for bilingual care applies beyond New York City

Una niñera bilingüe puede leer a sus niños en su lengua materna.

According to the article, although learning multiple languages simultaneously “doesn’t make kids smarter” (or maybe a little?), multilingual children: 

  • learn additional languages more easily
  • do better at complex tasks like isolating information presented in confusing ways
  • do well in subjects like science and math due to the flexibility of their thinking 

While some parents initially enrolled their children in classes to help them learn a second language, they all felt that wasn’t enough for their kids to become fluent. Hiring an in-home caregiver who spoke the language of their choice was a preferred choice for them. 

The article mentions the options of foreign nannies and babysitters, but many American parents with those aspirations for their children also choose an au pair, due to: 

  • the affordable cost
  • the flexibility of the hours
  • live-in childcare
  • cultural exchange for the whole family beyond just childcare
  • length of stay (committment of at least one year, with an option to extend for a second year)

What ways do you expose your children to a second language? A full immersion program in school, a baby-sitter, nanny or au pair? 

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About FrenchNad

English to French Translator & Interpreter; blogging at lemotdubonjour.com about a French word of the day, the challenges of interpreting and translating, and my adventures in Oregon!
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7 Responses to Why raising bilingual children is “a must”…

  1. mymcbooks says:

    Great blog

  2. Angelia Sims says:

    My daughter’s elementary taught Spanish. It helped her tremendously when she got to high school and took foreign language. This is a great thing to do and excellent information to post. 🙂

    • FrenchNad says:

      So wonderful your daughter had the opportunity to start a bilingual program early on! The earlier, the better… and unfortunately, high school is quite late to master a second language, unless you have the opportunity to learn the language in full immersion during that time (spending 1 month in Texas with a wonderful family when I was 16 helped me tremendously from mediocre to fluent English!).
      In Europe, we usually start with a foreign language either in pre-school, 1st or 3rd grade, then a second foreign language in 6th grade, then maybe Latin in 8th grade. In high-school, we major in litterature, economics or science (or a technical field). I opted for foreign languages as my minor so I was able to add Spanish too in 10th grade.
      Me gusta mucho aprender idiomas extranjeras! Gracias para tu commentario!

  3. David says:

    Having lived in several multi-cultural areas its surprising how often you come across children that do not speak the mother tongue(s) of their parents. It’s sad and a huge missed opportunity as it’s so much easier to learn languages when a small child.

    • FrenchNad says:

      Thank you for your comment. Indeed, it is a pity because the ability to become bilingual as a child is such a great opportunity! However, I also understand the concern by many first-generation immigrants who want to give their children the opportunity to grow up in better economic conditions and assimilate in the local culture as a native, not a foreigner like they were. It is tough to balance a home culture & language with the local culture: sometimes it means overcoming judgment and rejection… 😦

  4. Pingback: Work, food and play: Bringing it all home… Part 1 | The Au Pair Salon

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