Three Common Myths About Raising Bilingual Children

By the age of two, babies can usually say several hundred words. My son Alexander could understand almost everything in both languages ​​- Greek and English – but he could only speak six words. Like many parents, we doubted that we were doing something wrong.

This post was originally published in The Conversation .

Our fears grew as we watched young children surpass his speaking ability. (Even experts cannot shake off the fear and guilt associated with being a parent.)

There are a number of persistent myths about bilingualism, for example that it causes speech retardation and cognitive impairment. However, research shows that bilingual parenting does not cause language learning difficulties. Any delay in language development is temporary, so parents have nothing to worry about!

Here are some more myths debunked:

Bilingual parenting can cause developmental delays

Not true. In fact, there are many benefits, such as improved executive function (mental planning), metalinguistic awareness (the ability to think of language as abstract units), mental flexibility (adaptive information processing), and creative thinking .

Bilingual children usually reach developmental milestones within the normal range of language development , but in some cases they may be near the end (as was the case with Alexander).

Bilingual children lag behind and do not catch up with their peers

This is a controversial issue as bilingual children are very different. Some children show no lag at all .

It has been suggested that the time lag may be due to the need to adapt two language systems to the same brain, but these kids will catch up in a matter of months (note that this is not the same as language lag).

But more research is needed to understand the exact mechanisms that are responsible for this.

My child will confuse two languages

Lie. Although there is some disagreement as to when the languages ​​will split.

It has long been thought that two languages ​​first merge and begin to separate when a child is about five years old. Recent evidence suggests that languages ​​may split much earlier than previously thought .

For example, bilingual babies aged 10–15 months babble differently depending on who they are talking to (for example, babbling in English is for the mother and French for the father).

This suggests that babies are sensitive to who they are talking to from a very young age. This is likely a precursor to code switching (when bilinguals use two languages ​​in the same sentence).

Five Tips for Bilingual Parenting

  1. Be as enthusiastic and patient as any infant, and remember that a bilingual child faces a greater challenge than learning just one language.
  2. It is very important that both languages ​​serve a functional purpose. After all, language is a communication tool. If a child does not need to use another language, they will probably stop using it. Therefore, it is important to constantly place the child in situations that require the use of both languages , andideally with different speakers . This will allow them to develop stable speech categories in each language and ensure that they learn to process speech efficiently, which will help with both listening and speaking.
  3. Many parents worry about balance, that is, whether the child knows both languages ​​equally well. It used to be that in order to be truly bilingual, you need to be proficient in both languages ​​equally. I have done a series of studies on very good bilinguals and have observed over and over again that even fluent bilinguals have a dominant language . So, there is no point in emphasizing that the child does not speak all languages ​​on an equal footing, because the truth is that almost no one speaks him.
  4. Parents are usually concerned that bilingual children are mixing up their languages. Do not worry. This is a normal part of bilingual language development and not a sign of confusion. Even people who are well versed in bilingualism mix their languages .
  5. If you are concerned about your child’s language development, you should be examined by a doctor and, if necessary, a speech pathologist. Bilingual children can have speech delays just like any other child. If your child has speech delays, early intervention may be needed to help them learn their language.

Debunking Common Myths About Raising Bilingual Children | Talk


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