I got this same ad -- twice, actually, once addressed to my name and once to Mrs. DHsLastName
: ...and I spent about a half hour mocking the ad to dh, so you can probably guess that the short version is, "I think these tapes are a stoopid idea."
I don't have the ad handy, but let me see if I can remember some of the reasons I thought it would be a total waste of money:
First, I really hated the ad. They talked about improving your child's SAT scores, and frankly I don't have a lot of respect for anyone who's obsessing on SAT scores already when their child is a toddler
. Good grief. If you really do want to improve your child's SAT scores, then READ to them, for God's sake. The #1 factor in whether someone has a really high Verbal SAT score is whether they read a lot. How do you raise an obsessive reader? You read to them when they're young. You keep reading to them when they're older. You give them books. You subscribe to newspapers and magazines. You let them see you reading. You do not, needless to say, plop them down in front of videos. Yuck.
To make matters worse, they demonstrated some classic statistical fallacies in their claims. Yes, technically it is TRUE that children who take a foreign language have higher SAT scores (both verbal and math). This is not necessarily because learning a foreign language will improve your English language skill (although to some extent it does). The fact is that good students are much more likely to take a foreign language (rather than using that hour for Auto Mechanics or Pottery) (no disrespect intended here to students who take auto mechanics or pottery in high school -- I loved my art classes...just saying that students with lousy academic skills will seek out alternatives that require less academic work) and good students tend to score better on the SAT. Duh.
Moving on to other objections. The ad clearly wants you to believe that these tapes will make your children bilingual for life. Well, at best, I'd say that these tapes will give you children who, years later, can still count to ten in French, Spanish, German, or Italian (just as many, many people our age learned to count to ten in Spanish from Sesame Street). Sure, it's nice to be able to count to ten in a foreign language. I can count to ten in six foreign languages. That's about the extent of my knowledge of German, French, Bangladeshi, and Hebrew, though, and needless to say, my ability to count to ten didn't do me a whole lot of good while visiting France. (I've never been to Germany, Bangladesh, or Israel, but I suspect my ability to count to ten in those languages wouldn't help me much there, either.)
The tapes also sell the idea that all you need to have bilingual children is exposure through the TV set. This is simply not true. The only way children become bilingual is if PEOPLE are speaking two languages to them CONSTANTLY. Children can learn Spanish from a nanny who is a native Spanish speaker and speaks Spanish all the time. Children can learn a native language plus English if the native language is spoken at home most of the time. But it's harder than you'd think! I talked to a Tibetan family with a toddler who lived in Madison, Wisconsin, several years ago. Their child was kind of slow to learn to speak, and friends said, "Oh, you're confusing her -- switch to just English for a while," so they did. Their daughter quickly started speaking English. They then switched back to both Tibetan and English, but their daughter would ignore the Tibetan and refuse to speak it.
Even if your child grows up in a fully bilingual home, they will often rebel at some point and refuse to speak the other language. Some other family friends adopted two children, one of whom was a little boy from Paraguay. To ensure that Carlos had access to Hispanic culture as he got older, the father spoke exclusively Spanish to them (he was really fluent and comfortable with the language). They did learn Spanish, but at some point they started refusing to speak it, in or out of the home. This is definitely not a uniquely American phenomenon. One of my father's cousins is a professor who lives in Japan. His children REFUSE to speak English in the home; they will speak only Japanese.
Finally, languages require a lot of reinforcement or children will forget everything they used to know. When my sister was in nursery school, she got a classmate who spoke only French. His family had lived in Liberia but had just moved back to the U.S. because his mother had suffered a disabling car accident. For several months the boy got by just with French (one of the nursery school teachers spoke French) but then he slowly started learning English. And switched over completely, abandoning French. In high school, he signed up for French classes, but he had to learn the language from scratch, and did not find it any easier than his classmates (and he had the accent of an American who'd learned French at school, not a Liberian).
I see these tapes as part of the mainstream corporate conspiracy to sell us on the idea that to be good parents, we need to BUY OUR KIDS A LOT OF STUFF. This is BS. There's no easy way to teach your kids a foreign language, but if you really want to do it, meeting some non-English-speakers in your community and spending time learning their language, with your children, is a lot more likely to be successful than plopping your kids down in front of a TV set, no matter WHAT'S on. And reading to your children will build the foundation for academic success with ANYTHING.