New York City Parents Seek Out Bilingual Babysitters

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Most parents want what’s best for their children. In New York City, that desire is increasingly translating into a desire for babysitters and nannies who can do double-duty as both caretakers and language teachers. Parents are looking for babysitters who will speak to their children exclusively in another language. The idea is that the children will grow up learning to speak English from their parents and learning to speak the second language from their childcare provider.

As the New York Times points out, this is a big shift from previous conventional wisdom, which was that babies should be spoken to in English at all times to ensure that their English proficiency developed normally. But does having a bilingual babysitter really help kids become smarter?

Not necessarily, says Ellen Bialystok,  a professor of psychology at York University in Toronto. Ms. Bialystock told the New York Times:

“It doesn’t make kids smarter. There are documented cognitive developments,but whatever smarter means, it isn’t true.”

In fact, raising a truly bilingual child can even delay the rate at which they talk and begin to acquire language skills, although they tend to catch up to their peers are they get older. Bilingual children also tend to be better at solving certain types of problems requiring flexible thinking, and of course they also tend to pick up additional languages easily.  Plus, in today’s multicultural world, being able to speak more than one language has advantages of its own.

However, Ms. Bialystock questioned the benefit of hiring a nanny or babysitter to help a child grow up speaking more than one language. She told the New York Times:

“It’s an interesting solution; it gives young children a consistent exposure. But how long will the nanny be around, and who else will the child use that language with?”