Bilingual Babies -- a Sign of the Times

ByABC News
January 25, 2007, 3:54 PM

Jan. 30, 2007— -- Think playtime, but with a purpose.

From California to Connecticut, toddlers sit on the laps of their parents or caretakers and are spoken to in Italian, French, Spanish and, increasingly, Chinese.

They sit in circles, distracted by cuddly toys, at schools such as the Language Workshop for Children in New York or informal groups organized by parents.

For mom Karen Albright, having her 2-year-old daughter, Carolyn, attend French and Chinese classes seems natural. Carolyn "already speaks Spanish and English, because her baby sitter speaks Spanish," says Albright.

Encouraging a caregiver to speak in his or her native language to the baby makes sense to parents like Raj and Mamta Purohit of New Jersey. In the long run, they believe their daughter Anaka's exposure to native and grammatically correct Chinese is better for her than exposure to sometimes broken English. The Purohits see it as turning a possible liability into a bonus.

Mandarin (the dominant form of Chinese in the world) is not an easy language to pick up. The Foreign Service Institute ranks it about four times as time-intensive to learn as French, but these babies (many as young as 6-months old) are getting a head start. And if the success of the courses at the Language Workshop for Children and the rise in advanced placement language courses at high schools around the country are any indication, the popularity is surging.

Susan and Jason Krause want to give their son, Gavin, every advantage. Jason Krause manages real estate assets in China, and beyond the possibility of preparing his toddler to take over the family business one day, he also believes that teaching his son other languages is crucial for Gavin's overall development as a global citizen.

"I think it's important to show others in the world that we're not so U.S.-centric," explains Gavin's father. "Everyone should speak English, but we're going to make an attempt to speak their language as well. It helps culturally when you're doing business or in social engagements, just to learn what other people are about."