Throughout much of the world, history will show deliberate attempts have been made to forge monolingual societies through the elimination of minority languages.1 It is not surprising that, back in the day, research findings were consistently negative towards bilingualism.1 Even today, it’s hard not to come across comical (and sometimes downright weird) assumptions people make about raising children bilingually. In this article we have compiled 10 common myths on the subject with the purpose of debunking them. Hopefully this will help parents who are undecided about taking a step in the bilingual direction with their kids.
Myth #1: The world is mostly monolingual.
Not really. There are many more bilingual or multilingual persons than there are monolingual.2 More than half the world's population is bilingual.7 Furthermore, the number of kids that continue to be educated via a second (or third) language is greater than the number of children educated with one (first) language.2
Myth #2: It’s very difficult (or impossible) to teach my kids another language.
Nope. New technology, online instructors, curriculums, traditional methods such as language courses, are all readily available. Finding quality books and spending time reading with your kids goes a long way to help them learn any language.3 Targeted one stop solutions for toddlers (such as Kids’ Candor) makes this easy even for parents who do not know the other language. Bear in mind that, one way or the other, your kids do need plenty of exposure to the target language.3
Myth #3: My children won’t acculturate.
Actually, in homes where the parents come from a different culture, it’s the children who quickly acculturate and distance themselves from the culture and language of the family.3 Parents will be better able to connect with their children in their native language. Emphasizing the difference between cultures and languages yields well rounded and empathetic kids.3
Myth #4: Raising my child bilingually can cause a delay in development.
Wrong. This is no longer an accepted view.9 In fact, there are several advantages, such as improved executive function, metalinguistic awareness, mental flexibility and creative thinking. Bilingual kids generally meet developmental milestones within the normal range of language development.4
Myth #5: If my child has developmental challenges or learning disabilities, then learning a second language will make it even harder for them.
Wrong again. Studies that compared bilingual children with SLI (specific language impairment) to monolingual children with SLI found that the bilingual kids showed equivalent levels of language-related strengths and weaknesses to the monolingual group.5 The same goes for children with developmental disorders, such as Autism.5
Myth #6: My child will confuse the two languages
Even in the earliest stages of language acquisition, there is no evidence to support this.5 Children are not confused by hearing more than one language.9 All bilingual speakers of all ages sometimes mix their languages. This is called code-switching.5 It does not mean the child is confused – just means the child “can” switch at will.
Myth #7: To raise my child bilingual, I should use the one person - one language approach.
Incorrect. There are several ways to raise a kid bilingually, e.g: caregiver 1 speaks one language and caregiver 2 speaks the other; one language is used in the home and the other outside the home; the child gets his/her second language at school, etc. What’s important is the kid must understand that he/she needs two or more languages in everyday life.7
Myth #8: If my children are raised bilingually, they’ll have problems to read.
Absolutely not. Speaking and listening to several languages won’t damage the ability of your child to read. Some suggest to let your child learn how to read in the language spoken at school, so that he/she’ll get the most support there.6
Myth #9: It’s better to wait for my child to master one language before introducing a new one.
False. Experts suggest the 'optimal' time for learning a second language is 'at the same time as the first language'.8 This is pretty straight forward –the sooner, the better.
Myth #10: If I’m not speaking my mother tongue to my children, they’ll get the same strong accent and make the same mistakes as me.
What? First of all, having an accent is not an indicator of language fluency.9 Secondly, accents change over our childhood and adolescence, and in many instances do not stabilize until the early 20s.8 Once kids start mingling with other children (around ages 2 or 3) they’ll start to learn their accent from their friends.
1) University of Canterbury, “Myths about bilingualism”, http://twolanguages.canterbury.ac.nz/?page_id=103
2) www.libraries.rutgers.edu, “A Global Perspective on Bilingualism and Bilingual Education: Implications for New Jersey Educators” by G. Richard Tucker http://www.libraries.rutgers.edu/rul/projects/arachne/vol2_2tucker.html
3) www.puravidamoms.com, “3 Common Myths About Raising Bilingual Children” by Keli Allen García
4) www.theconversation.com, “Debunking common myths about raising bilingual children” by Mark Antoniou, MARCS Institute for Brain, Behaviour and Development, Western Sydney University
5) www.babbel.com, “Let's Bust Some Myths About Raising Bilingual Children” by Katrin Sperling
6) www.expatriateconnection.com, “Busted: 10 Myths About Raising Bilingual Children”
7) www.francoisgrosjean.ch, “Myths about bilingualism” by François Grosjean, University of Neuchâtel, Switzerland
8) The Linguist List, “Bilingual and Multilingual Children: Two Perspectives” by Deborah D.K. Ruuskanen and Anthea Fraser Gupta
9) www.bilingualavenue.com, “7 myths about bilingual individuals that may be holding you back!” by Marianna Du Bosq