Bilingual is Better


Today on Ask an Expert we´re trying out something for the first time: We gave two bilingual experts the same question and asked them each to answer it from their specific area of expertise. The result is what we feel a broader piece of extremely useful advice. Last week Dr. Ellen Stubbe Kester, Ph.D. answered Leslie´s question through the lens of her expertise in bilingual speech therapy. Today, Lori Langer Ramirez answers the same question as a multicultural and diversity in the classroom expert.

“Does it hurt the child’s development to emphasize more than one language? I am bilingual in both Chinese and English and my husband only speaks English. My baby goes to a daycare that speaks Chinese to him. However, since we live in CA, I wanted to expose the baby to Spanish as well, which I am proficient in but no expert. We read Spanish story books as well as Chinese ones and I speak Chinese to him when I am alone with him (since my husband only understands and speaks a little Chinese, I was worried it wasn’t fair to him to speak it all the time around the house when he’s there). We also occasionally read other language picture books for fun – like French even though I can’t be sure of the pronunciation. Is being too exposed to multiple languages weakening his grasp of Chinese? I’m not worried about English since he’ll get that at school and around our friends since everyone but my family and at daycare speaks English.”

Dear Leslie,

It doesn’t hurt a child’s development at all to emphasize more than one language. In fact, many studies show that in the long run, bilingual children often out-score their peers on standardized tests in school! It is a wonderful gift that you are giving your son… keep speaking to him in Chinese as often as you can. In fact, it’s totally fine for you to continue speaking Chinese to your son even when your husband is around. Obviously, the common language of the home will be English.

As for adding Spanish, it is great to expose him to yet a third language, but you might want to do it through a third party – either a kiddie class or an online language learning/play website, and through YouTube videos. Research seems to favor the native speaker parent of a language speaking that language almost exclusively to the child. Since you are one of the main sources for Chinese in his life, it would be best for you to speak Chinese, your husband English, and then introduce Spanish through a website or even a Spanish-speaking friend.  Here are some fun websites to try:

And some great YouTube videos:

Good luck!

Lori Langer

Lori Langer de Ramirez – Bilingual educator who began her career as a teacher of Spanish, French and ESL. She holds a Master’s Degree in Applied Linguistics and a Doctorate in Curriculum and Teaching from Teachers College, Columbia University. She is currently the Chairperson of the ESL and World Language Department for Herricks Public Schools, New York. Lori is the author of Take Action: Lesson Plans for the Multicultural Classroom and Voices of Diversity: Stories, Activities and Resources for the Multicultural Classroom, as well as several Spanish-language books and texts (Cuéntame – Folklore y Fábulas and Mi abuela ya no está). Her interactive website (miscositas.com) offers teachers over 40 virtual picture books and other curricular materials for teaching Chinese, English, French, Indonesian, Italian, Spanish and Thai. Her areas of research and curriculum development are multicultural and diversity education, folktales in the language classroom and technology in language teaching. You can read her answers here.

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