Myths and Misconceptions about Raising Bilingual Children

With so many myths and misconceptions about raising bilingual children, it can be easy to get discouraged, and grow fearful of raising your children with multiple languages.

“Non parlano Italiano?” (They don’t speak Italian?) I hear often when people hear me speaking with my boys. When I tell them that yes they speak Italian, but they also speak English, I get a range of comments from “Oh aren’t they too young to learn two languages?” and “Don’t they get confused?” to “Oh he must be really smart”. Everyone seems to have an opinion.

What you need to remember is that bilingualism is not a rare phenomenon. Around half of the world’s population is bilingual. If you do come across these myths and misconceptions they need to be ignored:

Myth 1: Growing up with more than one language confuses children

When children are learning two languages simultaneously, it is quite common for children to mix languages, it is part of the learning process. As they don’t have a full vocabulary, children tend to use which ever words they know to express themselves.

Often, when my children are speaking to me in English, and they can’t think of the word they need, they will tell me in Italian. If they don’t know, or can’t think of the Italian word, then they just point or gesture, as a monolingual child would.

Recommended Reading:
Bilingual kids mix languages and it’s ok!
Bilingual kids and language confusion

Myth 2: Bilingualism causes language delays

All children develop their language skills differently, whether they are monolingual or bilingual. Some bilingual children may start speaking fluently later than monolingual children, because they are taking in double the vocabulary.

This doesn’t mean that their actual speech is delayed. According to experts on language development for bilingual kids , if a child has a speech or language delay they will be delayed in both languages.

By the time most bilingual children start school they are at the same level as their peers and are able to communicate and learn with no problems.

Recommended Reading:
Language development for Bilingual Kids
Speech Delay in Bilingual Kids

Myth 3: Children need to be smart to be bilingual

There is a common myth that a child has to be of a certain intelligence to learn a second language. While for adults some may find it easier than others, children are born to learn languages. Just like learning to crawl and walk, learning a language becomes just another milestone.

Even children with developmental delays such as Autism and Downs Syndrome can become bilingual if there is a need for them to be. If they have enough exposure to the target languages, any child has the potential to become bilingual.

Recommended Reading:
Bilingual Kids with Special Needs

Myth 4: Children should be fluent in one language before learning another

Many parents worry that two languages at once will put too much pressure on their children. They think that by waiting until they are fluent in one language it will be much easier for them to learn another. However as children get older, they become aware of the languages. This means that they need to “learn” a language, rather than acquire it naturally.

Then how do you decide when your child is fluent enough in the first language to learn another?
Is it when they have enough vocabulary?
Is it when they can read and write?
The learning of a language continues throughout life so if this is the case, we can never actually choose a time they will be ready

It is widely agreed that the younger the child learns a language, the easier it is for them to learn, with the “Window of Opportunity” being between birth and five years old. By waiting until your child has learned one language to start a new one, you may miss this window.

Recommended Reading:
Bilingual Babies: Why you should introduce languages early

Myth 5: Parents should be native in the language to speak with their child

While this is generally the preferred option, it is still possible to teach your child a second language if you are not a native. If a parent is fluent enough in a language and is confident speaking to the child consistently, they can still acquire the language and become fluent. The main thing is that your child receives enough exposure to the language.

Some parents worry about the child not having a native accent, but as long as the child can be understood then then what is the issue? Isn’t it better for them to at least have a second language with a foreign accent, than not have one at all?

Recommended Reading:
How to introduce your second language to your child
Does my accent matter?

Forget the Myths and Misconceptions

If you are considering raising a bilingual child, and have any of these fears and concerns, remember that they are nothing but myths and misconceptions that you don’t need to worry about. I can’t say that the bilingual journey will be an easy task. In fact it takes a lot of patience, and dedication, but it will all be worth it and your child will thank you for it in the future. After all it is one of the best gifts a parent can give a child. Coming from someone who has learned a second language as an adult, I would do anything to go back in time and learn it as a child.

The road to success is dotted with many tempting parking places. ~Author Unknown

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