How an Au Pair can help Raise Bilingual Kids in Hampton Roads, Chesapeake, Virginia Beach, Suffolk, Norfolk, & Williamsburg
My friend Mia has taught her kids to speak three languages: Finish, Hebrew, and English. She speaks Finish to them, her husband speaks Hebrew, they go to the neighborhood schools in English, and take supplemental classes in Hebrew and Finish. Three disparate languages. They were all fluent in Hebrew and Finish by the time they started kindergarten. English came along in school, easily.
Most kids in the world today learn two languages from the time they start preschool. The monolinguism of the US is kind of an anomalie. Kids brains are wired for language acquisition -- any language -- even more than one at a time. Mia's kids had no trouble learning two or three languages before they were five. Even when they were in first grade, they could alternate between the three, depending on who they were talking to. (Hopefully they'll be able to retain all three as they grow up.)
In the past, parents were discouraged from exposing their kids to two or three languages assuming it would delay language acquision and create confusion. Today, many American parents realize the benefit of bilingualism and introduce their kids to another langauge as early as possible, either by speaking one at home or having another language spoken by a childcare provider.
Most researchers agree that not only can young kids handle the input, but learning two or three languages can provide a mental exercise with long-term benefits. In fact, Canadian scientists have found evidence that the lifelong use of two languages can delay the onset of dementia by up to four years when compared to people who are monolingual.
The Center for Applied Linguistics offers some additional insight into second language acquisition:
-- Use of two languages in the same conversation indicates a mastery of both languages.
-- Many parents rely heavily on television to teach a second language; yet research shows that human interaction is the best method.
-- Parents can expect their bilingual children to gain a greater understanding of language as an abstract system. Fluent bilingual students generally reach higher levels of academic and cognitive functioning than their monolingual peers.
So, chose an au pair, pick a language immersion preschool, dust off your college French books, and help your kids wrap their minds and their mouths around new, unfamiliar words and phrases. A little hassle and confusion is worth learning a valuable skill.