4 pervasive myths about bilingual children—debunked

Myth 3: Bilingualism causes language confusion.

myths about bilingual children

Bilingual children are far from rare in the United States. The U.S. Census Bureau data indicates that at least 350 languages are being spoken across American homes, yet myths about raising bilingual children abound and often drive parents to consider dropping a language.

Here are four prevalent misunderstandings on the subject—and the truths behind raising children with more than one language.

Myth 1: Children only become bilingual by learning languages at school.

Yes, children can learn languages at school, but since exposure is important, children need to speak and listen to the target language daily. Some practical tips to make sure your children are exposed regularly to the new language include:

  • Regularly talking to them
  • Reading stories
  • Playing games
  • Listening to lullabies
  • Frequently traveling to areas where the language is spoken

Myth 2: Bilingual children have delays in their speech or language development.

All children (monolingual or bilingual) develop their language skills differently, but learning multiple languages doesn't delay language development. According to research conducted by the University of Alberta, learning a second language does not trigger confusion nor does it negatively impact language skills.

Bilingual children say their first words within the normal age range (between 8 and 15 months) and when they produce their first sentences, they develop grammar along with the same timelines as monolingual children. Additionally, children who learn two tongues have improved executive-function (focusing and multitasking) as well as metalinguistic awareness and creative thinking. However, if you notice your kid lacks linguistic milestones are significantly delayed, seek advice from a speech-language pathologist.

Myth 3: Bilingualism causes language confusion.

Current studies suggest that exposure to a second language for children with language difficulties in their primary language does not put at risk a more serious language impairment in children's primary language. Children are very sensitive to sounds and can separate between languages from a very early age. For instance, if parents follow the OPOL (One Parent One Language) approach, children will learn to differentiate between the two languages and their brains will adapt to use each language when it is appropriate.

If you notice code-switching (or mixing languages) with your child, know that it's a normal part of bilingual language development and is not a sign of confusion.

Myth 4: My child is too old to learn a new language.

The optimal time for parents to introduce a second language is exactly when children are learning their first language (from birth to 3 years). Before puberty, children can still process more than one language in a parallel way. In fact, a new study suggests that children can absorb the grammar of a new language up until the age of 17 or 18.

Here are a few tips to help you raise a multilingual child:

  1. Create the need for your child to use the second language. Try playing games or singing songs using only the second language.
  2. Have your children watch their favorite cartoons in the second language. They will be happy to see that their favorite characters are bilingual, too.
  3. Reading books and listening to audiobooks in the target language helps children with pronunciation and overtime it will improve comprehension.
Most importantly, you don't need to be a native speaker of a language to share it with your children. Getting input from a native speaker and staying consistent in giving your children lessons and exposing them to people who are fluent in the target language is what matters. The end result is always worth the effort

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