Is English Enough for your 21st Century Baby?

Benefits of Raising Bilingual Babies

by Olga Bichachi

Most parents can't wait until their baby starts to talk. We wonder, will his or her first word be "Mom" or "Dad?" I remember the many times I telephoned my husband at work, interrupting countless meetings, to share my joy at hearing our baby utter his latest new word. Not even my knowledge of language acquisition from studying linguistics in graduate school, could dilute my joy and amazement when witnessing the ease and speed with which my newborn turned his cooing into speech. In our case, my husband and I were twice as amazed as we watched our three young sons learn Spanish and English at the same time.

Perhaps you are among the growing number of parents who want their baby's first words to include "mamá" and "papá." You're convinced that in today's competitive world, English is not enough for your baby. After all, more than half of the world's children speak more than one language. Why should your child be left behind?

Bilingual Students Outperform Monolingual Classmates on Standardized Tests

The latest research supports your belief that exposing babies, toddlers and preschoolers to more than one language will reap plenty of benefits later on at school and in life! These studies compare bilingual children to their monolingual peers and show that bilingual children...

  • score higher on standardized tests like the F-CAT (Florida's state test)
  • read sooner

  • are better problem solvers

  • have an edge in the workplace

Higher Test Scores

The very latest evidence supporting the benefits of children being exposed to a second language, comes from a new study from Miami-Dade County Public Schools, the nation's fourth largest school district and a leader in bilingual education. Dr. Joanne H. Urrutia, Director of the district's Bilingual Education and World Languages Department, is about to release a noteworthy report which clearly shows "students who were exposed to a second language at an early age scored significantly higher on the verbal and math sections of the F-CAT (the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test) than their English only classmates."

Educators compared the verbal and math scores of two groups of fourth and fifth grade students from 16 elementary schools in M-Dade County. One group of students has been enrolled in the school district's bilingual program since Kindergarten. Their classroom time consists of 60% instruction in English and 40% in the foreign language. The other group of fourth and fifth grade students has been enrolled in English only classes since Kindergarten.

The study shows bilingual students scored 23 to 34 points higher than their monolingual peers in both the verbal and math sections of the F-CAT. Educators predict similar results on the 2003 F-CAT. Dr. Urrutia believes the higher math scores of the children exposed to a second language may indicate that these students have more developed thinking skills and function on a higher "level of abstraction." The higher verbal scores may be a result of "added time" spent in learning two languages. This supports what educators have long known that learning a second language, inherently builds more vocabulary and better language skills in not only the students' second language, but also in their first language, English. (For more information about this study go to

The College Entrance Examination Board also reports that college bound high school students who study a foreign language in high school statistically score higher in both the verbal and math section on the SAT. In fact, students who studied 4 years of a foreign language in high school score the same in math as those students who took 4 years of math.

Reading Readiness

In a recent study on child language acquisition, Dr. Ellen Bialystok, a York University linguist, found that children who are exposed to a second language early in life learn to read sooner than their monolingual classmates. In her study, preschool children were given tests to see their understanding of letters as symbols. Monolingual children could recite the letters but could not read without the help of pictures. On the other hand, bilingual preschoolers comprehended written language without the use of pictures and scored twice as high on language tests as their monolingual peers. These children were better prepared to tie symbols to words and words to meaning. They started reading sooner than children exposed to only one language.

Problem Solving

Several studies show children who learn more than one language in infancy are better problem solvers. In Dr. Bialystok's studies, both bilingual and monolingual preschool children were asked to look at a picture and solve a problem on the picture. Children exposed to more than one language were twice as likely to solve the problem than their monolingual peers. The explanation may be that bilingual children are used to "tuning out" one language while speaking in the other. So, when they're asked to unravel a problem, they are better at "editing out" insignificant information. In other words, they focus on what's important and ignore the rest.

Social and Economic Rewards

Finally, the benefits of exposing young children to a second language aren't limited to school and to intellectual performance. Children who interact in more than one language are naturally exposed to more than one culture. This helps in building acceptance and understanding of others. Their improved social skills and their ability to communicate in more than one language will also provide an economic edge when they reach the job market. Perhaps then, even more than now, bilingual adults will be able to choose from an assortment of career opportunities, destinations and high paying jobs, that their monolingual peers can only dream of.

So as the challenges and opportunities of a new century unfurl for our children, it is my hope, as well as the hope of other educators, that parents help spread the news of the importance of learning more than one language in childhood. My sons, as their mother and father have done, are now reaping the benefits of being exposed to more than one language. I trust more parents like you agree that for your children, English is not enough.

Olga Bichachi is a teacher, a linguist and most recently a television news reporter. Olga's reports on the latest in parenting and education issues have been seen throughout the country on CNN, FOX and ABC's Good Morning America. You may have seen Olga on GMA, driving a car into a canal to show parents how to get themselves and their kids out of a sinking vehicle.

Olga is now plunging into different waters. She's the Creator of Babies Speak , a line of instructional videos to introduce babies, toddlers and preschoolers to a second language.

The first, and newly released, Babies Speak Spanish, introduces young children to all the sounds of Spanish. The quality and entertaining video is based on sound teaching techniques as well as the latest research on second language acquisition.

For more information or to contact Olga please visit: