Like many first-generation Hispanics I grew up in a bilingual household. I had the benefit of learning English at school and Spanish at home. I never really understood how much of a benefit I received by growing up bilingual. I didn’t have to take any classes, buy any software or get a tutor to speak, read and write both languages, which leads me to think about how soon a parent should teach a foreign language to their child.
One of my very close friends just had a baby. She and her husband are of different cultures, but both live stateside and communicate primarily in English. In many of these situations the baby will just learn English, but in reality the baby can grow up to be trilingual ⎯an incredible feat for someone living in America.
According to a study in the Journal of Phonetics, learning a foreign language as a baby has many benefits. The obvious one is to grow up without an accent. Another benefit is that learning a language in the earlier years is much easier than learning it later in life. I have a Godmother who works as a nanny, and many of the children she cared for learned Spanish by spending a few hours a day with her.
Many of the people that I know who have picked up a foreign language have continued to embrace the language. They visit the country or countries where that language is spoken and read publications, books and watch TV in that language. And as a result they never lose their fluency in the language.