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Last Updated: Monday, 16 January 2006, 13:31 GMT
Chinese nanny state takes root in US
By Stephanie Irvine
BBC News

New York's Chinatown
Parents want their children speaking Chinese from an early age
China's emergence as an economic superpower has been well-documented.

Western business leaders are said to be gearing up for all the changes to come, but they are not the only ones keen to get a head start.

An increasing number of families in the United States is looking to employ Chinese nannies - not so much for their child-rearing abilities, but more for their language skills.

Parents always want to give their children a good head start in life to prepare them for the future.

It seems that families in the United States with a lot of disposable income believe that helping their children master the intricacies of Mandarin at an early age is one way to do that.

Companies who place nannies or au pairs with families in New York have experienced a rush of requests for native Chinese-speakers.

That is the trend right now, according to JaNiece Rush of Lifestyle Resources.

"Just in the last couple of years, we've received an influx of calls where families are hoping that we can find them Chinese-speaking - especially Mandarin-speaking - nannies and housekeepers, so that their children will pick up Chinese," she says.

Bidding war

This is good news for Chinese-speaking nannies in New York.

You can't ignore the obvious that the Chinese economy is growing
Martha Genieser

JaNiece Rush explains that they are in such high demand they can command a salary of around $20,000 more than the average nanny would earn.

One Chinese woman even managed to secure a salary of $70,000-a-year after two families tried to outbid each other to get her.

It is a lot of expense and effort to go to, but is it worth it?

Martha Genieser is the mother of a three-and-a-half year-old boy, George, who started Mandarin classes about a year ago. She explained why she was looking for a Chinese au pair.

"He really enjoys it, he's having a good time. It's something that is his own - and because he is having such a good time with it, I thought it would be nice to do something outside the classroom,' she says.

George has also learnt Italian with previous nannies and is learning French at nursery school.

Martha Genieser insists she is pushing Mandarin because George enjoys it, although she admits she believes there may be long-term economic benefits.

"I think, you know, you can't ignore the obvious that the Chinese economy is growing at such a great rate, and it would be nice if in the future George had a head start in a language that traditionally I think is very difficult to learn,' says Ms Genieser.

Passing trend?

Language experts say it is easiest to learn a new language, and master new sounds, within the first few years of life.

So it makes sense to introduce Mandarin - a language which foreigners find difficult to learn - at an early age.

But JaNiece Rush doubts whether most families are really committed for the long-term.

"It's almost like when everybody had the Pomeranians [dogs] and the Pocketbooks [computers] a few years ago.

"Maybe it will last but I don't think so. It seems like we go through trends - like the trend a couple of years ago when everyone wanted Spanish speakers, and right now it just seems that Mandarin is the new hot thing to have your children learn," she says.

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