TODAY   |  October 16, 2013

Raising children bilingual offers surprising benefits

Columbia University professor Erika Levy and bilingual mom Ana Flores discuss why raising bilingual kids may provide unexpected bonuses, like boosting cognitive function and reducing the risk of Alzheimer’s disease.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> back now with the advantages of raising bilingual kids. more than one in five school aged children speak another language and that number is on the rise.

>> there's proven benefits to being bilingual but it's hard for parents to maintain more than one language in the home. she is at teachers college and anna is the author of bilingual is better. they are both raising bilingual children. hats off. it's hard.

>> you tried.

>> it's hard because when your spouse is english only, it's hard to do. you have to commit to it from the time they're born.

>> takes a lot of work but what you would do is called one parent one language where your parent would speak only english to them and you would speak spanish the whole time. but you have to start when they can't talk back.

>> right. when they don't know what you're doing.

>> you'll have no resistance.

>> so erica, we mentioned there are benefits to this. are they proven benefits for kids?

>> yes. the most obvious one is the ability to speak to more people across generations and cultures and languages but-also cognitive benefits that are pretty strong including the fact that to speak two languages, when you're speaking one language, you're suppressing the other language. so you're suppressing all of it's rules so it's a workout for the brain and it turns out that bilinguals are better at multitasking, at zeroing at on if information they need to focus on and sift ought the other information.

>> anna, you were raised bilingual yourself. spanish and english. you're raising a 6-year-old now bilingual too. how do you do it for people that want to get started? do you have to be completely fluent yourself?

>> i had the benefit of being raised in both languages. i don't remember learning either or and that's what i want to happen to my daughter as well. so as soon as she was born my husband and i speak spanish at home so all we did was speak spanish to her since day one. even when she was in my belly. and then always finding ways to motivate. you can't force it on them. i found that out the hard way. she did rebel on me but we keep going and we travel a lot. we have family overseas. so we travel to see them.

>> i want to run through some of the myths about this. there's a lot floating about this. raising a child to be bilingual leads to speech delays.

>> no, that is a myth. they progress through the language development similarly. when children do have disorders they're not more prevalent in by bilinguals. so don't worry.

>> we'll be back in a moment. this is "today" on nbc.

>>> what a year.

>> coming up, kathie lee and hoda most commonly misheard song lyrics when the ladies play who knew?

>> is that what we're doing?

>> and they're starting a campaign for the hall of fame .

>> you guys are joining me right.

>> yeah.