Language Matters

Kathleen Stein Smith, Ph.D

Raising bilingual children has its benefits and doubters

“(CNN)In a playground in Paris, 3-year-old Raphael Jegouzo excitedly tells a little girl, ‘Me too, I speak French!’ Like many other children his age, he learned to speak French at home — except his home is Brooklyn, New York.

‘My husband’s family couldn’t believe he spoke French as if he were living in France,’ Raphael’s mother, Raquel Jegouzo, said. At home, Raquel speaks to Raphael in English and French. His father, Erwan Jegouzo, a native French speaker, speaks to Raphael exclusively in French.

Raquel and Erwan Jegouzo pose as superheroes with their children.

The Jegouzos might be doing something right. According to Emory University psychology professor Laura L. Namy, the best approach to raising bilingual children is to start early. “The child should hear as much of both languages as possible from birth, ideally from two different speakers who consistently speak one of the languages to them,” Namy said.

Pediatrician Dr. Gwendolyn Delaney agrees. ‘The earlier the better. Studies have shown that children exposed to more than one language have greater tissue density in the areas of the brain related to language, memory and attention. The effect is particularly strong when the additional language is introduced before age 5.'”

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Languages do matter!


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