There seems to be a general tone among parents today when it comes to the topic of helping their child learn a second language, particularly English-speaking parents of young children. Just this morning, in our local Starbucks, a mom approached me after seeing the magnetic signs on my car that tout my business and its benefits. She asked me if I also taught adults Spanish, to which I quickly and definitively replied with a negative, a no. Her feeling was that she had to know the language before bringing it into her child's world.
This mom, like so many other savvy parents, felt she better find a program that will get her fluent in the new language first. This feeling, this tone is such a misconception as recently addressed in a terrific book written by two moms who are also PhDs in linguistics. In their book titled The Bilingual Edge, Dr. King and Dr. Mackey clearly state that a parent does not have to be fluent in nor have command of the second language in order to bring it
into their home on a daily and regular basis. As long as there is interaction between parent and child using tools that bring the new language into their lives then the bilingual journey can take place.
Experts agree that daily and regular interaction with the new language is crucial to achieving bilingual fluency. There is a huge debate about the length of time it takes a person to become truly bilingual. The point here is not to debate the length of time necessary to be deemed wholly bilingual. The younger, the better is the agreement between experts, research teams and educators. Today's parents should heed their advice and get the language learning going as early as possible in their children's lives.
The very board that administers the SAT, the College Board, has continually reported that the length of foreign language study is an important variable in predicting students' SAT performance. What does this mean? The seniors who had four or more years of language study scored, on average, 50 points higher in the Critical Reading section of the SAT than those seniors who had only a half year or less of foreign language.
Year after year the statistical reports that provide information about SAT performance across the United States show clear evidence that link together foreign language study and increased standardized test scores. Many parents, who are faced with toddler tantrums and preschool age adventures, don't often think this far into their child's future. College entrance exams seem a lifetime away. Truth be told, the choices they make today in their child's development, both socially and educationally, will help determine and drive their successes later in life. Gaining skills in a second language early in life will assist your child in learning his own language more quickly and often times lead to early reading skills that are not noted in monolingual children.
Dr. Ellen Bialystok, PhD out of York University has shared definitive research showing that children who receive instruction in two languages score twice as high on language tests than their monolingual peers. These bilingual children also read sooner and demonstrated advanced problem solving capabilities. This same woman and her research team out of the Rotman Research Institute just reported in January 2007 that bilingualism can help delay the onset of dementia by four years. Again, something most parents are not focusing on when they are still changing diapers and choosing preschools, but something worth noting.
Maintaining an English-only mentality is no longer a choice. The choice now is when should I as a parent begin the second language introduction and why. The reasons are clear, and your child will benefit greatly from you making the choice to begin the journey to bilingualism today in your family.