My Twins are Trilingual
I am the mother of 5 year-old twins who are trilingual: native English speakers, fluent in Spanish from an exclusively Spanish-speaking nanny, and growing proficiency in Mandarin from an immersion preschool.
Before I had children, I knew I wanted them to have the benefit of being bilingual since I have felt the lack of bilingualism in my own work life quite acutely. I am a physician who trained in the southwest and east coast and found the inability to easily communicate with the Spanish-speaking patients to be a serious impediment to providing excellent and efficient medical care. And I worked in medical research laboratories for many years with each lab experience being filled with Chinese scientists. The Chinese researchers would try and teach me phrases and I was literally deaf to the tones of Mandarin, making it impossible to replicate the phrases.
I researched early childhood acquisition of foreign languages and learned most kids can easily pick up (multiple) foreign languages when they are very small, and that this window of easy language learning ends by age 4-6, that is, before kindergarten or 1st grade for many kids. Since I work full-time, I hired a nanny when the kids were born and chose a person who was fluent in Spanish, and then, importantly, I instructed her to only speak Spanish to the kids (which she has done since the girls were 4 weeks old). Also, when the girls were newborns, I heard about a new Mandarin immersion preschool opening in the area. The girls have attended the Chinese immersion program since they were in Mommy and me classes at age 1. They have continued with half-day 5 days a week preschool there from age 2-3, and full-day preschool there since then.
I chose the immersion pathway to give them the greatest options when they are older, covering Spanish, a language quite commonly spoken here in the US, and Chinese, a language that could be quite predominant in their working lifetime. And instead of asking why choose something beyond monolingualism, perhaps the most appropriate question is “Why not?” #
Kathleen Lomax is a physician who lives in Millburn Township, NJ.