Bilingual is Better: Teaching Kids a Second Language

Who wishes their kid spoke a second language? I’m raising my hand right now. I have a Spanish-speaking babysitter, so I have high hopes that my offspring will pick up a little something. The kids are resistant, but I am determined.
So I was really into this new book called Bilingual is Better: Two Latina Moms on How the Bilingual Parenting Revolution is Changing the Face of America. The authors, Roxana Soto (see left) and Ana Flores give so many great tips that I went to them directly with important questions. They’re the webmasters behind Spanglish Baby, and they seem to know what they’re talking about.
Here’s exactly why Roxana believes Bilingual is Better and how you can get your family started:
KK: What is the easiest way to get your kid started on a foreign language if you don’t have someone who speaks one in the home?
RS: Expose them to the foreign language in as many fun ways as possible. The first one would be through music because even if they don’t understand what’s being said, children’s music is always catchy and fun. Plus, the vocabulary in these songs is usually simple enough and always repetitive, so they’ll surely learn at least a few new words. The second way would be through technology: apps and online games abound in several foreign languages including Spanish, French and Mandarin. Kids love them and, again, they’ll be getting some vocabulary without even realizing it. Another great option, is to expose your children to local cultural events where the foreign language is spoken and celebrated. This is a great way to see why speaking another language is useful.  Finally, you can always get bilingual books on CD. There are some great options out there and the best part about them is that you’ll know exactly what is being said because you can read the English version while you listen to the Spanish one together with your children.
KK: What age is ideal to start? Is elementary school too late?
RS: The ideal age is at birth because that ensures that your child actually learns two languages at the same time. In other words, he or she would essentially have two first languages. However, parents who didn’t start at birth should know that research has shown that anywhere from birth to 7 years, kids’ brains are wired in a way that it’s much easier for them to learn a second language. So elementary school is definitely not too late. While the sooner, the better when it comes to bilingualism, parents should know that it is NEVER too late… It’s just more difficult.
KK: How will being bilingual be an advantage to our kids?
RS: The advantages of being bilingual go from cognitive to social. Research has shown that bilingual people tend to have overall better analytical, social, and academic skills than their monolingual peers. Bilingualism has also been proven to help delay the onset of Alzheimer’s and offset aging. Knowing more than one language will help your kids feel at ease in different environments because bilingualism creates a natural flexibility and adaptability. This, in turn, increases their self confidence. If all that’s not enough, career prospects are multiplied many times over for people who speak more than one language and they’ll be able to see the benefits of being bilingual on their paychecks to boot!
KK: Also, I have a personal question. I have a Mexican babysitter. My children, ages 4, 6 and 6, have taken Spanish lessons a few times a week for over a year. But they’re not picking up much. How can I get these kids speaking Spanish?
RS: The ideal thing would definitely be for the au pairs to speak solely in Spanish to your children. I think that if you tell the babysitter that this is what you want them to do, she needs to respect that. I know that sometimes a situation may arise in which English will be the best way to communicate, but for everyday household and play conversations, this shouldn’t be a problem. Unless you think your children will refuse. While this could make it harder, I think they’re still young enough for this issue to be overcome.
The exposure your children will get by being spoken to solely in Spanish should do wonders for their bilingualism. The other important thing to keep in mind is that the au pair should incorporate as many games and activities as possible to their daily routines, but in Spanish. Ask them to sign them songs, but more importantly ask them to read them books in Spanish. I think your kids are still young enough for this arrangement to work to their benefit.
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