Research has shown that a bilingual education has many cognitive benefits, including a highly flexible thinking structure, increased mental and emotional creativity, and much more. Not to mention it's much easier to develop an ear for and pick up languages sooner rather than later.
While it's pretty clear that learning another language can be great for a child, what might not be so clear to many families is how exactly one might go about it. So, read on for some great suggestions for how to foster an early bilingual education, from our family at Worldtots to yours!
1. Language Immersion through a Caregiver
If parents speak a different language, this can be a wonderful and natural way to teach a child multiple languages from birth. It's often recommended that each parent stick to using just one language with the child, as it will make differentiating that language easier for the child, though it can still take years before they stop mixing languages. Another popular method is to hire a babysitter, nanny, or even a live-in au pair to speak and teach another language to the child.
2. Dual Language School / Language Immersion Program
Once the child is school-aged, if you are truly interested in fostering bilingualism, it is highly recommended to register for a dual language school or immersion program. Brooklyn's Worldtots in Bay Ridge, for example, is an amazing dual language preschool and UPK option for children ages 2 - 5 years to learn in both English and Mandarin.
Families here in New York City have many public and private dual language programs to choose from. To get an idea of the variety, click here to see a list of dual language programs offered at NYC public schools in the 2015-2016 school year, including Spanish, Russian, Chinese, Arabic, French, Bengali, Japanese, Haitian Creole, Hebrew and Yiddish! New programs open every year, so contact NYC DOE or call 311 with questions.
3. Language Classes
Signing your child up for a foreign language class in the community is a wonderful opportunity, but don't expect your child to become bilingual with a native tongue just through a one hour class once a week. Children need much more exposure to hearing the language, as well as plenty of opportunity to engage in using the language with others.
4. Videos, books, and multimedia
These can be great tools to reinforce what a child is learning elsewhere, but probably not enough on their own. Little Pim is a great at-home system of books, DVDs, and apps geared toward teaching a foreign language to children under the age of 6 years old. They have resources in many languages, including Spanish, Japanese, Mandarin, French, Arabic, Russian, Italian, Hebrew, German, Korean, Portuguese, and English! What's more? You can even borrow some of their DVDs FOR FREE from Brooklyn Public Libraries! There are also plenty of books and apps to foster the learning of another language, and YouTube is a great free resource, as well.
5. Play Dates & Story Times
Young children thrive when learning through play, and learning a language is no different. Search online and ask around for local language-based play groups and story times. Here in Brooklyn, Dyker Library has Mandarin Storytime on Mondays from 10:30 - 11:30am, Kensington Library has Russian Storytime on Tuesdays from 11 - 12pm, Sunset Park Library has Spanish Storytime on Wednesdays from 3:30 - 4:30pm, Cortelyou Library has Spanish Storytime on Wednesdays from 10:30 - 11am, Williamsburgh Library has Spanish Storytime on Thursdays from 10:30 - 11:30am, Clarendon Library has Bilingual Storytime (English & Spanish) on Fridays from 11 - 12pm, and Central Library has Japanese Storytime on Saturdays from 11:15 - 12:15pm.
Another option? If you have a friend or know a nanny who speaks another language, talk to them about starting a play group!
Have you prioritized a bilingual education for your children, or do you plan to? Share your tips and methods in a comment below!