August 24, 2010

“We feel so strongly that our daughter hear another language.”

The NY Times reports that "a noticeable number of New York City parents are looking for baby sitters and nannies to help their children learn a second language, one they may not speak themselves."

And indeed, bilingualism comes with a lot of benefits, social (being able to communicate with more people) and cognitive (for example, an advantage at tasks that involve disentangling the shape or look of a word and its meaning):
[B]ilingual children do better at complex tasks like isolating information presented in confusing ways. In one test researchers frequently use, words like “red” and “green” flash across a screen, but the words actually appear in purple and yellow. Bilingual children are faster at identifying what color the word is written in, a fact researchers attribute to a more developed prefrontal cortex (the part of the brain responsible for executive decision-making, like which language to use with certain people).
But it also comes with a price: Bilingual children have to learn more words and they have to keep two linguistic systems apart. Hence, access to the right words is a bit slower (we're talking about milliseconds here). Parents who hope that knowledge of a second language will give their kids a leg up in the admission to prestigious preschools will therefore be disappointed. At the age of 2 or 3, kids that are growing up bilingual may actually seem linguistically less adept than their monolingual peers. And how to keep up the second language once the child goes to school? According to the article, some parents decide to keep the nanny, even though this has "financial implications." Interesting that it doesn't occur to them to find Spanish-speaking friends for their kids. What's the point of knowing a language if you don't associate and communicate with the people that speak it?

Learn more about cognitive aspects of bilingualism here (scroll down to Podcast #9 on "Growing up Bilingual").