In their article about parents choosing to have non-English speaking nannies speak their native language to their charges, The New York Times warns:
“It doesn’t make kids smarter,” said Ellen Bialystok, a professor of psychology at York University in Toronto and the author of “Bilingualism in Development: Language, Literacy and Cognition.”
“Bilingualism carries a cost, and the cost is rapid access to words,” Ms. Bialystok said. In other words, children have to work harder to access the right word in the right language, which can slow them down — by milliseconds, but slower nonetheless….
Ms. D’Souza said that both of her sons lagged their peers by almost a year in verbal development. Her pediatrician recommended speech therapy, and one son’s preschool teacher expressed concern that he did not know the alphabet. But when both started speaking, at around 3 years old, they were able to move fluidly among three languages.
All three of my children were exposed to Russian since birth, from me, my family and yes, their Russian-speaking babysitter.
My oldest, like in the example above, also didn’t speak until the age of three and then spent an equal number of years in school-recommended speech therapy. More importantly for NYC parents, he did not test gifted until the advanced age of 9 which, had we pursued the public school option, would have effectively left him out of the running.
My middle child refused to speak Russian. He even refused to listen to it when addressed. Why? We have no idea. All we know is he spoke starting at 11 months and, like a good New Yorker, tested gifted before the age of five.
My youngest currently understands both Russian and English, though she definitely prefers the latter (she does, however, often translate for her brothers). She also began speaking at 11 months, but, she’s a girl. She has yet to be tested. Stay tuned!
One arena in which being bilingual does not seem to help is the highly competitive kindergarten admission process.
“It doesn’t give you a leg up on the admissions process,” said Victoria Goldman, author of the sixth edition of “The Manhattan Family Guide to Private Schools.” It is one piece of the bigger puzzle, which includes tests scores, interviews and the ability of a child to follow directions. “Speaking another language is indicative that you are verbal, but you have to be behaved.”
George P. Davison, head of school at Grace Church School, a competitive downtown school, said that bilingualism tended to suppress verbal and reading comprehension test scores by 20 to 30 percent for children younger than 12. “If anything, it can have a negative effect on admissions,” he said.
My youngest is three and a half years old. We’ll be applying to school shortly. Stay tuned, indeed!
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