In the city that never sleeps, people speak many different languages. It comes as no surprise that many parents will bring their kids up speaking various languages as well. Recently, there has been a sprout in language programs in NYC in the public and private sector of education (bilingual public schools in Spanish-English, French-English, Russian-English, Mandarin-English, Polish-English tracks) and private schools offering language immersion programs in French, Spanish, Mandarin, Russian, Hebrew, and German. If not in school (including preschool), there are language classes offered after school or on the weekends at many learning centers.
Both parents speak the language: The simplest way a toddler can learn another language (aside from English) is when both parents speak the language to one another and to the toddler. This is cost-effective and convenient, as you don’t have to drop the kid to a language class or pay for a tutor to come to the home. A Colombian friend who speaks native Spanish and English told me that when he was small, his teachers in Texas asked his parents to only speak English to him and his siblings at home. They continued to speak Spanish at home and now all three speak perfect English and Spanish. Another couple speaks Russian at home to their two kids (both under 3 years), as the Grandparents speak more Russian than English. “I want my kids to converse and grow up with their Grandparents,” he explains, “They can learn English from daycare and school. Plus, it just makes them smarter.”
Each parent consistently speaks one language: For example, one parent always speaks in French and the other parent always speaks in German (we can hear “Oui” and “Ja” in the elevator from our neighbors). Another father says his son speaks Korean and English. As he only speaks English, he speaks English to his son and expects his 4 year old son to reply in English. His wife, however, always speaks in Korean to their son. This way, they establish consistency and the child knows that this parent speaks one language and the other parent another language. This is a very common scenario with parents who speak different languages.
Outsource it: “We both work and can’t spend as much time with our daughter,” one family says. They send their daughter to a Mandarin immersion school. “Plus, because we grew up here, our Chinese isn’t that good so we just speak English at home.” Another family sends their 18 month old to languages classes three times a week. “It supplements what his father speaks to him at home,” the mother explains, “he works a lot, so this way our baby hears additional Spanish.”
Grandparents are the best resource: One family invites the Grandparents to spend weeks at a time visiting, so their kid learns Russian from his Grandparents. Another mum flies to France and drops her daughter off with the Grandparents for the preschool summer vacation. “Then I can work and relax the whole summer,” she says, “And my parents love having their only granddaughter for the summer when it is so nice and warm for going out.”
Nanny who speaks the language, if neither parent speaks the language: One gay couple posted signs in their building for a Mandarin-speaking nanny before their kid was born. Neither speak the language, but decided that they would like their future kid to be fluent in Mandarin. They interviewed candidates and eventually hired a Chinese nanny. Later, when the couple wheeled their baby around in a stroller, their neighbors would peek at their baby, then look up with puzzled faces: “But your baby doesn’t look Chinese. You were looking for a Chinese nanny…so we assumed you adopted a Chinese baby.” Nowadays, in addition to a Chinese nanny, their kid attends a Mandarin immersion school. Hiring a nanny or baby sitter who speaks the desired language can be an effective way for early language exposure.