Here at the Watertown Free Public Library, we support bilingualism and multilingualism by offering Spanish Story Time each month. For Spanish-speaking families, it's an opportunity for children to work on literacy skills in a fun environment, just like all of our story times. For English-speaking families, it's a chance to expose children to the sounds of the Spanish language at a young age.
When babies are still very young, their brains are designed with the ability to learn any language. Tons of brain cells are devoted specifically to learning language. As they age, however, the brain rededicates unused language-learning cells toward learning other things. If children don't hear a language spoken from a young age, they lose the ability to distinguish new sounds in unfamiliar languages. On the other hand, if children hear and interact with a language starting when they're very young, even if that interaction is only occasional, it will be much easier for them to learn that language when they're older.
Scientists who study languages and brain develop have discovered that bilingualism has tons of other benefits. A couple of examples have recently been written about in the New York Times.
The Bilingual Advantage - May 2011
Ellen Bialystok, a cognitive neuroscientist, has found that bilingual people can multitask more successfully and may have a reduced risk of developing Alzheimer's disease.
Hearing Bilingual - October 2011
Perri Klass writes about recent studies into how the brains of monolingual and bilingual babies deal with language.