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Raising a bilingual child

Ten-year-old Elle Futernick spends half her day at Key Biscayne Community School speaking Spanish in the classroom. Twice a week she practices her Mandarin Chinese, along with older brother Zander. At home her family speaks English.

"I know how valuable language is in a global economy,'' says their


Here are some websites with tips, programs and forums for bilingual/multilingual families:

• Miami-Dade Schools website. (Broward public schools website for language instruction is under construction). (Has an interesting online magazine, Multilingual Living Magazine.)

mother, Karen Beber, who is fluent in Spanish and Portuguese. "And understanding cultures from around the world is such a gift. I think this is something they will always use in whatever they do. It's the future.''

Indeed, in a world where economic ties reach beyond oceans and continents, learning a foreign language is fast becoming the skill of choice for parents who want to give their children a leg up in a competitive environment. They're enrolling their kids in language programs in schools and hiring private tutors to supplement classroom teachings, spurring growth in a cottage industry of language centers catering to children as young as 3.

"When I started in 1973, teaching language was a home thing. You did it to maintain culture,'' says Lourdes Rovira, former director of bilingual programs of Miami-Dade Public Schools. "Now parents are looking at it as an essential skill in a global economy. It's been taken out of the family tradition and become an economic decision.''

South Florida, often the epicenter for all things multicultural, may be leading the way.

"South Florida is an example of what we need to be doing in the rest of the country'' in teaching language in the schools, says Naomi Steiner, author of 7 Steps to Raising a Bilingual Child ($14.95, Amacom) and a developmental behavioral pediatrician at Tufts Medical Center in Boston. "Parents are waking up to this idea that we have to work with different people from different cultures, and a great way to do this is in their language.''

What's more, parents don't have to be bilingual themselves to raise a bilingual child, though having one parent speak the language certainly helps. "There only has be a committed, consistent effort and a plan,'' adds Steiner.

While fluency in Spanish has always been prized in predominantly Hispanic South Florida, at least one other language is gaining a firm foothold with young linguists.

Language centers in Miami-Dade and Broward report a growing interest in Mandarin Chinese. This is evident at the Global Institute of Languages and Culture in Plantation, where director Antonieta Mercado has noticed a sizable increase in requests for lessons from both adults and children.

It comes down to dollars and trade. "Corporate people realize it's important to do business with China,'' Mercado adds. "Knowing the language helps.''

Spanish, however, remains the No.‚1 choice for a second language, mainly because many households already speak the language and because of the proximity to Latin America.


7 Steps to Raising a Bilingual Child, by Naomi Steiner (Amacom, $14.95)

Raising a Bilingual Child, by Barbara Zurer Pearson (Mars Publishing, $14.95)

The Bilingual Family: A Handbook for Parents, by Edith Harding-Esch and Philip Riley (Cambridge University Press, $29)

The Bilingual Edge: Why, When, and How to Teach Your Child a Second Language, by Kendall King and Alison Mackey (HarperCollins, $15.95)