bilingual family, raise bilingual kids, bilingual development

Working Parents Struggle to Raise Bilingual Kids

November 16, 2009 08:00 AM
by Anita Gutierrez-Folch
Although the benefits of bilingualism for academic and professional success are well recognized, many parents find it challenging to teach their native languages to their children.

The Benefits of Bilingualism

Despite the advantages of raising children that speak more than one language, it’s difficult for many working parents that grew up in bilingual households to find the time to teach their children a second language, Cindy Krischer Goodman reports for The Miami Herald.

According to data from the U.S. census 2008 American Community Survey, quoted by The Miami Herald, approximately 15 percent of the 53 million children between the ages of 5 and 17 in the United States are bilingual. The percentage increases dramatically in areas with a large Latino population, such as Broward and Miami-Dade counties in Florida, where 43 percent of the 677,330 kids ages 5 to 17 are bilingual.

Due to the recession, bilingualism and multilingualism have become commodities that can greatly increase the chances of finding employment, Krischer explains. Bilingualism has also proven to be beneficial for the cognitive development of young children, Jennifer Santiago writes for Babyzone. As psychologist Carey Myles, author of the book “Raising Bilingual Children,” notes, bilingualism has been linked to several positive cognitive effects including “early reading, improved problem-solving skills, and higher scores on the SATs, including the math section.” Bilingualism could also contribute to the strengthening of family bonds, allowing children to “communicate comfortably in the native language of older family members like grandparents,” Santiago adds.

Learning a second language as an adult, however, is much more of a challenge than being eased into it at a young age. According to a recent study conducted by a team of scientists from Italy’s International School for Advanced Studies, quoted in the blog SpanglishBaby, early exposure to two different languages increases brain flexibility. “[B]abies being raised bilingual—by simply speaking to them in two languages—can learn both [languages] in the time it takes most babies to learn one.”

Still, busy schedules often make it very difficult for parents to provide the consistency children need to master fluency in a second language. Unable to deliver instruction themselves, many bilingual parents turn to language schools to supplement the language exposure that children sometimes lack at home. “The vast majority of my clients have high standards and expectations,” Roberto Giuffredi, owner of Step by Step Languages in Miami, told The Miami Herald. “They have one goal, for their kids to become proficient so later in life they will have an edge over their competitors.”

Background: Spanish in the suburbs

A sharp increase in the number of Hispanic immigrants in the suburban areas around New York, New Jersey and Connecticut motivated many school districts to enlarge and improve their bilingual programs, Ford Fessenden reported for The New York Times in 2007. As Fessenden explains, the federal No Child Left Behind law mandates that schools maintain a certain standard regarding test scores, which has “forced schools to make sure that subgroups, like Hispanic students, do well. If not, the schools are publicly branded as failures.”

Along with helping students succeed in both English and Spanish, suburban schools are attempting to get “hard-working, culturally and linguistically isolated parents” involved in the school community.

Related Topic: Language immersion and creativity

Following the results of an intriguing study establishing evidence of a link between living abroad and enhanced creativity, 21 elementary schools in Utah decided to offer “dual immersion” language programs. The programs aim to encourage students to live abroad, an experience that studies suggest improves creative problem-solving abilities. Theoretically, those that learn a foreign language are more likely to take the leap and actually live abroad, suggesting that Utah's program could produce a new generation of creative students.

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