Bilingual Babies: Mandarin Speaking Au Pairs from China in High Demand
Nannies and au pairs from China are in high demand lately, according to two articles published in The New York Times and Spiegel International. Wealthy and middle-class parents—seeking to give their children an economic edge—have hired live-in au pairs from China to teach their infant children Mandarin Chinese.
Excerpt from Spiegel International…
Chinese Au Pairs Are New York's Latest Fashion:
Manhattan's Elite Wants to Prepare its Progeny for the Economic World of Tomorrow.
Her parents are caucasian Americans, her home is a $1 million villa on the Hudson River and her favorite place to play is a swing in the yard.
But when Hilton Augusta Rogers, aged 2, swings through the air on sunny mornings she doesn't express her joy in English. "Geng gao," she calls to her father Jim. "That means 'higher,'" he says, pushing the swing. The girl is happy and burbles in a child's Mandarin Chinese: "le, le," she says. Then she asks for a fresh piece of "gua gua." Each word makes her parents proud of their little globalization project: Who else at Hilton's age can already say "melon" in the language of a future economic world power?
Hilton is Jim Rogers' latest investment.
The 63-year-old earned millions of dollars by founding the Quantum Fund in the 1970s with George Soros. And while the world speculated on Internet startups a few years ago, Rogers invested (successfully) in sugar, copper, and nickel. Since then he's been known as the "Commodities Guru."
Now he wants to prepare his only child for the 21st century.
"China will be the next world superpower," he says. "We think we're doing something very good for her." That's why he and his wife Paige, 37, have put Hilton in the hands of a Chinese au pair.
This is smart, especially if you understand how language is learned. Research demonstrates that language learned in infancy (under the age of 3) is stored in a different section of the brain than language learned as an adult. Language learned as an infant is stored as a native language (no accent). Studies also demonstrate that a second language learned in infancy is acquired more easily and more rapidly than language learned as an older adult.
According to Dr. Patricia Kuhl, codirector of the Center for Mind, Brain, and Learning at the University of Washington…
"American babies who at 6 months were able to distinguish between sounds commonly used in Mandarin Chinese had lost that ability by the time they were 10 to 12 months of age. But American babies exposed to Chinese for a total of 5 hours when they were 9 months old performed up to par with their Chinese counterparts."
Conclusion: Begin foreign language development early and immerse the child in the language.
According to reports, Mandarin-speaking nannies are difficult to find in the U.S. and even harder to hire from China. Demand for Mandarin-speaking au pairs began in 2004, and continues climbing each year. If you have connections in China, you may want to consider starting a business that locates and places au pairs in American homes. Demand for such services will increase as China's economic development continues to unfold.
According to language experts, there are several important points to follow if you want your child to become bilingual or trilingual.
Goal: Trilingual Child
At home, each parent should speak a different language exclusively to the child (i.e. Father speaks only French to the child, and mother speaks only Mandarin to the child). At school, the child will be exposed to a third language (i.e. English). The child will naturally learn all three languages, in order to communicate with those around him.
Goal: Bilingual Child
At home, both parents speak the same language to the child (i.e. French). At school, the child is taught exclusively in English (beginning in infancy). He will naturally speak both languages.
During college, when I studied abroad, I spent some time in Paris. The family I stayed with was Chinese. Their sons spoke Mandarin, French, and English. They acquired Mandarin from their parents (native tongue), and French (native tongue) from the school and nation (France) they were living in. English was also taught in the school they attended. However, the boys spoke English with an accent (it wasn't native, like the French and Mandarin). This was probably because instruction in English did not begin at a young age, and exposure to the English language was sporadic, instead of continuous immersion.
Giving your child the opportunity to speak two languages (as a native) is a huge advantage.