When Louise Sanders adopted her daughter, Camille, from Panama, she thought it was important to teach her about her heritage. So just before Camille turned 3, Louise enrolled her in a Spanish-language school in their Tucson, Arizona, community. Now, at 3 1/2, Camille loves to sing Spanish songs, and sometimes she even answers questions more quickly when her teachers ask her in Spanish rather than in English.
"Kids this age are developing language skills rapidly, and they quickly absorb whatever they hear," says Erika Levy, Ph.D., assistant professor of speech and language pathology at Columbia University Teachers College, in New York City. "They can learn to understand new words in two different languages at an incredibly fast rate." And you don't need to enroll your child in formal language classes to hear her repeat words and songs in a new tongue -- just listen in when she's watching television shows like Dora the Explorer, Go, Diego, Go! and Sesame Street, which teach basic Spanish words to the preschool set. Lots of parents are also supplementing this elementary knowledge with bilingual books, toys, and CDs.
Why are so many families jumping on the bilingual bandwagon? "In our increasingly global world, parents realize that their kids will benefit from knowing more than one language," says Nancy Rhodes, director of foreign-language education at the Center for Applied Linguistics, in Washington, D.C. "There's definitely been a grassroots push for more bilingual education in preschools." Exposing your child to a second language will help him learn about other cultures. Research has shown that bilinguals tend to be more creative thinkers than those who speak one language, and one study suggests that their brain functions may stay sharper as they age.
Here's how to get your little linguist to begin learning.
The only way a child can truly master a second language is if she is frequently around someone who speaks it fluently. Here are some things to remember in a bilingual household.
When you shop for bilingual toys, games, and CDs, make sure the words are spoken clearly and by a native speaker with a proper accent. Your child will have a fiesta learning a new language with these.