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Ask Nurturance: Why hire a bilingual nanny?

Posted by on Oct 17, 2016 in Ask Nurturance, Language Development, Recent | 0 comments

Ask Nurturance: Why hire a bilingual nanny?

Dear Nurturance,

My husband and I are expecting our first child in December.  We would love for her to learn more than one language, but we only speak English and what little we remember of our Spanish classes in high school.  I know that some families hire bilingual nannies to care for their children.  I’d love to learn more about what research says about this practice.  

Thanks in advance,


Dear Karen,

Recent research has shed light on both the benefits of bilingualism for children and the relative advantages of consistent exposure to multiple languages at an early age. As these research findings reach a wider audience and parents begin to understand the potential benefits that can spring from knowing more than one language, many parents have begun to search for options regarding their children’s language learning.

In a shift from the commonly held belief in the United States that viewed speaking another language as a deficit, current cultural norms regard diversity and multilingualism with respect and view them as desirable. Many parents regret that they are monolingual and wish to give their children more opportunities for diversification and growth. They may feel that a good way to accomplish the goal of raising a bilingual child is to hire a bilingual caregiver for their children.

Five Common Reasons For Hiring A Bilingual Nanny

  1. Some parents may have heard about Patricia Kuhl’s research on how babies discriminate sounds. Kuhl discovered that babies are born with the ability to differentiate between all the sounds in human language, but before they reach their first birthday the brain only tunes into the sounds that a child hears in the surrounding environment. Kuhl also found that face to face interaction is crucial to language learning and sound discrimination and that similar learning outcomes cannot be reproduced by mere exposure to sounds through audio and video recordings. Given that relationships and responsive communication is scientifically proven to be key to language development, parents may well wish to have their very young children cared for by competent adults who will also introduce a new language and sounds into their child’s language experience.
  1. Other parents may have read about Ellen Bialystock’s findings that bilingual children perform better on tasks requiring executive function skills. Studies have found that children who speak more than one language are able to transfer their ability to switch between languages to alternating between tasks. Bilingual children appear to have enhanced inhibitory control and attention spans and thus perform better on complicated, multifaceted problem solving activities.   If speaking an additional language can truly enhance organizational ability, inhibitory control and attention spans, naturally parents may want to provide opportunities for their children to become bilingual by hiring a nanny who speaks a different language.
  1. Recent findings that bilingualism can delay Alzheimer’s disease and certain kinds of dementia may also have captured the attention of parents who are really planning ahead. Researchers are currently looking for links to explain the reason for this and current hypotheses include the notion that as bilingual people maintain more than one language, they are exercising the muscles in their brains enabling them to ward off mental deterioration. Parents hope that they will lay the foundation of lifelong bilingualism by giving their children consistent exposure and motivation to learn more than one language early on through developing a relationship with a caring adult who speaks a different language.
  1. Parents who are the offspring of recent immigrants may feel a loss of their own linguistic and cultural heritage. In the past, immigrant parents often regarded English ability as the path to educational and economic success. Thus many immigrants encouraged their children to speak only English. As these children have now become parents, they may wish for their own children to learn and appreciate their family history by accessing the language and culture of their heritage. Many families believe that a good way to accomplish this goal is to hire childcare providers who will interact with their children in the language and culture of their ancestors.
  1. Other parents may be looking ahead to assist their children in achieving educational success. Perhaps they believe that being bilingual will give their child an edge in gaining acceptance to a prestigious school or landing a future job in a competitive environment. Many parents suppose that acquiring additional skills and competencies early will be an advantage to their children in years to come. These parents hope that by hiring a bilingual nanny the exposure their young children will have to a second language will enable them to cash in the “earlier is better” phenomenon in the future.

Whatever the reason may be for hiring a bilingual nanny, research clearly supports the fact that all language development can be enhanced through caring, supportive and responsive relationships. Read more about ways to support multilingual language development.

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