I read an article featured in the New York Times recently and I thought it is interesting to read.
According to the article, a lot of families in USA are hiring baby sitters with a foreign language background. Why?
Parents cite different reasons for hiring baby sitters and nannies to speak a second language with their children. Some struggled to pick up foreign languages and want to make life easier for their children. Some believe it makes them smarter. And naturally, this being the melting pot that is New York, many parents have a connection to another language and want to reinforce it.
This is a very interesting move since not long ago when families hired baby sitters or nannies, they required them not to use other languages other than the one used by the family for the fear that additional languages might confuse the children. This move reflects the new research results that “learning a second language makes it easier to learn additional languages. ”
According to the research of Ms, Ellen Bialystok, a professor of psychology at York University in Toronto and the author of “Bilingualism in Development: Language, Literacy and Cognition”, “bilingual children tend to have smaller vocabularies in English than their monolingual counterparts, and that the limited vocabulary tends to be words used at home (spatula and squash) rather than words used at school (astronaut, rectangle). The measurement of vocabulary is always in one language: a bilingual child’s collective vocabulary from both languages will probably be larger. ” What’s more, it actually slows down the kids when they try to find the right word in the right language. However at the same time, “bilingual children do better at complex tasks like isolating information presented in confusing ways. ”
For young bilingual children, being bilingual does not seem to help getting them admitted for competitive kindergartens. This is not surprising since they have to sort out the languages with smaller vocabulary, but in the long run, being bilingual can be beneficial for them.
Take Chinese for example, it is a language based on symbols rather than alphabet; the four tones makes the pronunciation different from most other languages. Having a babysitter or nanny can guarantee a constant exposure to the language, at least verbally, which is a big benefit for young learners. Even if for whatever reason, the babysitter or nanny has to leave the family, the accumulated passive knowledge of the language would remain in the brain of the child’s and benefit his/her later studies if s/he decides to continue learning Chinese.