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Bilingual Kids Do Not Get Confused Speaking Two Languages

bilingual-kids-language-confusion

Bilingual Kids Do Not get Confused

Bilingual kids get confused learning two languages at once. It is impossible for children to learn a second language while trying to master their first.

There is also the possibility of a speech delay because of language confusion, and bilingual kids may not end up not talking at all.

Parents should speak one language to their child, and it should be the community language so that eventually when their kids go to school they won’t get confused.

Any of this sound familiar?

If you are raising a bilingual child, I am sure you have heard a few of these statements, either from friends, teachers, or even strangers. There is this huge misconception that bilingual kids get confused learning two languages at once. Many parents become scared off and some even consider dropping a language because of it.

Let’s get one thing straight though. While bilingual kids develop their language abilities differently, bilingualism does not cause confusion. Learning two or even three languages at once, does not cause confusion.

bilingual-kids-language-confusion

But my partner and I speak different languages with our kids, won’t there be some confusion?

If each parent speaks a different language to your child, it will not confuse them. The OPOL approach is very popular because children learn to differentiate between the two languages , and who they should speak them with very early on.

But we speak a third language between ourselves

Many multicultural families speak a third language. Perhaps you speak Italian to your child, your partner speaks French, however between you the language is English. This might seem like it could confuse your child, but it isn’t the case. Your child may not become fluent in all three, however at the least, they may develop a passive understand of English hearing it between you constantly.

But my child mixes languages, he must be confused

Mixing languages is common with bilingual kids. Children who are learning more than one language at once are taking in double the vocabulary. Sometimes if they don’t have what they need in one language, they compensate by using the other. In one way they are lucky. Monolingual children don’t have this advantage. If a monolingual child doesn’t know a word, they may not be able to express themselves at all.

Recommended: Bilingual Kids Mix Languages

But my child goes to nursery/school and the teacher says my child is confused

Many teachers in monolingual nurseries and schools are uneducated on bilingualism and may think your child is confused because of they are unable to communicate as well as the other students.

If your child is starting at a school where the language is different to the one you speak at home, there may be a period where your child may stop talking. But don’t mistake this for confusion. Language immersion is one of the easiest and quickest ways to learn a language. Children initially listen and take everything in. They will eventually start to speak, and will catch up quite quickly.

But my child has a speech delay, could this be due to language confusion?

Bilingualism does not cause a speech delay. If a child has a speech delay, it will usually occur in both languages. Language development is different in all children. Some bilingual children will start talking later than others, but this is also the case with some monolingual children. If your bilingual child has a speech delay it doesn’t mean they are confused. If you are worried, seek medical advice from a speech therapist who specialises in bilingualism.

Recommended: Bilingual Kids and Language Development

But learning to read and write in two languages seems confusing

Just as children can learn to speak in two languages at once, they can also learn to read and write in two languages at once. While there may be different alphabets, or different sounds of some letters, children are able to distinguish between the languages quitequickly. Some language combinations may take longer than others, but most children are able to learn with no issues and become biliterate.

Recommended: Biliteracy: Learning to read and write in two languages

Bilingualism and language confusion

If you are raising a child in more than one language, you are likely to hear various myths and misconceptions about bilingualism. Make sure to do your own research, and don’t believe just anything you hear from others. Children have been raised to be bilingual and multilingual in many parts of the world for centuries. In fact more than half of the world’s population is bilingual. It can’t be that half of the world is confused.

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34 Comments

  1. Christine

    Hi Chontelle,
    My son is 19months and I speak to him in Chinese and English. My husband in French and vietnamese. When my husband and I speak amongst ourselves we speak English. My in laws French and vietnamese and my parents only Chinese. I know the ideal is 1 language per person.. But my Chinese is actually not fluent enough to manage in only Chinese. And neither is my husband’s vietnamese. Are we confusing him??

    I read him books in Chinese and English.. But i read each line English then Chinese… Is it better that I read the whole book in English then re-read in Chinese?

    He just started daycare 2 weeks ago in English and the educator says he seems to understand!!! So it seems like the English is going through!!!

    Thank you,
    Christine

    • Hi Christine,
      There is no “one rule” to raising bilingual kids, however consistency will certainly help and it seems like you are doing well.
      The only suggestion I would make is that if your child is going to English daycare, that you try to stick to other languages at home because usually it is the school language that will be the strongest.
      Feel free to join our community group and come chat with us: https://www.facebook.com/groups/bilingualkidspot/
      Chontelle 🙂

  2. Where bilingual children may get confused is in making the choice of which language to use in differing circumstances. My anglophone grandson aged 5 has a bilingual cousin of his own age who lives in Munich speaking English at home with her anglophone parents but speaks German at school, leading her to belive adults speak English and children speak German, so when visiting her grandparents in Portsmouth and meeting my grandson there, she immediately addresses him in German. I knew a 4 yearold son of Scots parents in Paraíba Brazil who classified anyone he met as either Anglophone or Lusophone, and refused to speak to anyone except in his decision as to what was their language. Taking him on my shoulders to the beach and conversing in English we passed a playmate with whom he traded insults in Portuguese before resuming his English conversation with me.

  3. Gina Soraya M.R. Helder Geerman

    Here on Aruba almost everyone speak, read and write 4 languages. Papiamento, Dutch, English and Spanish since we were 5 to 6 yrs old and we dont get confused.

  4. Terri Graves

    I learned Portuguese beginning at the age of 27. It was difficult to say the least but with time and hard work I am now fluent. I lived in Brazil for over 18 years. I raised 3 kids (2 of which were born in Brazil) to speak, write and dominant both English and Portuguese. They managed it so easily as children to clearly speak each with no accent. This is undoubtedly a great gift to give your children. Most cultures in the world speak more than one language and/or multiple dialects. They are not confused. They are multilingual! Later in life, I became a Speech-Language Pathologist and see the benefits to the brain of multiple languages.

    Here’s a little joke for you:
    What do you call a person that speaks three languages?
    Tri-lingual

    What do you call a person that speaks two languages?
    Bi-lingual

    What do you call a person that speaks one language?
    American 😊

    I am a American and am very thankful for my heritage. I am also so very thankful to have had the opportunity to learn more than one language. If you have the opportunity to learn another language or pass this ability on to your children then by all means do it! Definitely a blessing!

  5. Juan

    I am Chinese and my husband is Australian with British background. We have 3 kids, my husband speaks English to the kids and I speak Chinese to them since they were born. They understand both naturally. When we take them back to China for a visit, they have no problem to communicate with people in China and in Chinese. They feel a bit confused between Chinese and Japanese sometimes ( LOTE is Japanese in school), the writing is the same and some of the characters mean the same too, but different pronunciations. They slowly work that out.

  6. Karina Mata

    I have children ages 6, 3, and 2 that have lost all their Spanish after starting school. Does anyone have experience with a Spanish learning program targeted for kids that you can recommend?

    • Tito

      They have been intimidated and bullied at school by teachers, principals, students and monolingual morons with little brain capacity. I grew up bilingual and was bullied. ¡Pero yo no me quito!

    • Karen

      I know of a great program. It’s full proof…You! You are the best program! They have not lost their Spanish, they are just out of practice. If they spoke Spanish before school then they can continue to do so. The problem is that we stop holding them accountable like we did before they started school. Now they have English as another way to communicate and if no one asks them to use their Spanish to communicate, they simply won’t.

      It is best for them to practice Spanish at home with you. Have them speak in complete sentences or phrases. They will be back to speaking Spanish in no time 👍

      Hope this helps and suerte!

  7. Gauri

    Hi, I am an Indian. In India most of the people are multilingual. We knows at least three languages: Our mother tongue, Hindi and English.

    • Chayenne gomes

      I’m from Aruba our language is papiamento my wife speak spanish we speak papiamento and spanish with our kids, they watch tv in english and at school the classes are in dutch .

      • Most Americans would expect that your kids would be curled up in a ball from the confusion. I’m so sorry I didn’t have a second language to give our kids, or understand how important it was. Each of our four took a foreign language in high school and remained that — foreign.

  8. Julie

    I have 3 children 2 of which go to a welsh secondary school. I’m from Wales but unfortunately don’t speak Welsh and my husband is from London so speaks no Welsh either. My boys speak and do their work in Welsh in school all day and speak English from the minute they leave. They are yrs 8&9 and are in top set in everything and gaining 100% in tests etc. They have no help at home with homework and are getting on better academically and socially than some of their friends who only speak Welsh.
    My youngest is 6 and will be going down the same route as his brothers

  9. Non Harries

    I was brought up in a Welsh speaking family and learnt English in school. My children were bought up as Welsh speakers and learnt English from the television, disney videos etc. They were both totally fluent by the time they went to school at 4. They attended Welsh medium schools and my eldest studied both languages at A level, went on to study Welsh at university and then studied for her Masters at Oxford through the medium of English. Never an issue, I think it’s only an issue if adults make it one.

  10. Huw Roberts

    Our grand daughter, aged 36 months, is learning Welsh and English equally well. She has a Welsh speaking father and an English speaking mother. Yes she mixes up words at the moment, but we know from years of experience in Wales that this is only temporary. Being bilingual is a great advantage and makes it easier to learn further languages later in life.

  11. Ron

    This is a really interesting post Chontelle, thank you. I can see why this would think that kids would get confused with this. I think the thing I found surprising is your point that they can even learn how to write two languages at the same time. It’s mostly surprising to me because I was just in Brazil for a hear and found it nearly impossible to learn Portuguese (My wife is from there and demands we teach both languages to our kids). Great reading, thank you!

  12. Once upon a time there were a Cat with two kittens.
    They were approuching a corner and the Cat looked around and saw the bad Cat of the town reaching the same corner by the other side.
    The Cat told to the kittens.
    “Kittens, stay quite. Don’t make any noise”.
    And when the bad Cat of the town
    was close the Cat said; GRRRUAUU. GRRRUAUU, GRRRAUU. and the bad cat of the town though it was a big dog and ran away.
    Then, the Cat told to the kittens:
    “Do you see kittens, the advantages of knowing two languages” 🙂

  13. Children are very adaptable. At first I thought my child will find it far too hard to learn 3 languages, but now he switches between them without a thought. He has also started reading a series of books in alternate languages, which helps with widening his vocabulary in both.

    • Tina B.

      My daughter comes from a French speaking mom and an English speaking dad here in Northern Ontario, Canada. She has gone to a French speaking school her entire life and does most of her after school activities in English, because indeed, English is the language of the world. She has not once been confused about languages and from the age of two she would ask people around us to speak in English when her dad was around and would quickly tell me : Mommy we can speak French now, when her dad left the room. Being from Northern Ontario, Canada where we as Francophones are being quickly assimilated, our dialect has become one that is distinctive, unique and a clear indication that bilingualism is very present.

      For any parent that doubts the learning of languages simultaneously, my daughter has made her very sceptical dad a believer. She is fluent in both French and English and at the age of 11, she has made a career for herself in both the French and the English acting world. Languages are skills that open people to cultures and to the wonderful world we live in. Kudos to parents who can offer that gift to their children.

  14. Victor

    Hi Chontelle!

    I have a question for you and I would really appreciate if you could dedicate some time to answer it. I’m currently speaking to my child in English but we are living in Spain and our native language(both parents) is Spanish, besides this, my mother is speaking to my daughter in French but she just sees her two times per week and just a few hours. My wife is very worried about this fact and she thinks my baby will get confused in the future (she is currently 15months old so she barely speaks). What are your thoughts on this? do you think it could be a good thing for her? or should we just get the French language out of the equation?

    Thanks,
    Víctor.

    • Hi Victor,
      I don’t believe your daughter will be confused, this is the perfect way to introduce a third language for a young child.
      For example in our situation, I spoke always English and my husband and community in Italian. We had a Spanish girl come for a few afternoons per week. In total I think it was about 6-8hrs. By doing this my children have been raised bilingual English / Italian, and my eldest son was speaking Spanish quite fluently after 2 years.
      You are lucky you don’t need to find someone like we did, you have your mother who is a part of your family, and who will always be around! If she keeps consistent and speaks only French, your daughter should pick it up. Perhaps she won’t be as fluent as English and Spanish, but she should be able to communicate eventually, and you can always introduce outside resources to help her later on if you wish.
      One thing I would suggest, is to be patient. Your daughter is still young and as you mentioned she barely speaks. She will be taking it all in though don’t worry! This is the best age!
      Good luck and I would love to hear an update later on down the track 🙂

      • Victor

        Thanks a lot for your answer Chontelle! It’s very reassuring! It is our first daughter so it’s the first time we do this and sometimes it feels like we don’t know what we are doing.

    • Seda

      Hello Victor,
      As long as u follow the one person one language rule there will be no confusion. I am Turkish my husband is Egypian our common tongue between me and him is English. We are living in Arabic speaking country but we have a small Turkish speaking community. My first child is now 5 years old. She can speak Arabic English and Turkish fluently. And singing in French too 🙂 no confusion. She is even helping people by translating sometimes. I mean she knows the difference. Don’t worry there are some points they are choosing to speak only one of the languages till they master it. But at the end you will have a child speaking 3 languages at the same time.
      Good luck 🙂

  15. This was a wonderful post! I grew up speaking three languages, English, Spanish, and Italian, and the experience was wonderful. It never hampered my education and only enhanced my appreciation of other languages and cultures. Children are amazingly resilient and adaptable—please give your children this gift!

  16. Jean Villeneuve

    I was raised Francais a la maison English on the street. at 80 years old je parle je li and write francais and english. Never found it confusing and trouvé que one lamguage help in vocabulary quand je le savais pas when i spoke in one language et que je connaisait le mot dans l”autre.

  17. Kira

    I am bilingual in German and English. I came to this country when I was 4 years old from Germany. My mom spoke to us in German at home. I learned English in school and outside the home with my friends. I was never confused and picked up the English language within 3 months and had no German accent when I spoke English. I still have no difficulty understanding the German language. Speaking a second language is more difficult if you don’t hear it on a regular basis. You tend to lose your knowledge of the vocabulary so it is harder to speak. If you are fortunate enough to have the ability to teach your children different languages in the home, because you are fluent in them, I would highly recommend it. The best time to learn a language is when your children are young. Force them to speak to you in your native language at home. They may not like it at the time, when they are growing up, but they will thank you for it when they are adults!

  18. Denise

    I am English speaking and my husband is French speaking. We raised our sons to speak , read and write in both languages. Both our sons went to full French schools and graduated . Most principals were surprised that they did so well in French as I only know a tiny bit of French and spoke to my sons in English most of the time.

  19. Jelena

    Greetings!
    I am Serbian, my husband is Czech. We communicate in English and we are expecting a child in July. Naturally, we’ve been warned about many things you’ve listed in a text. But reading your post really gave us a sense of relief. Request to join the group is sent, perhaps a bit prematurely, but we’re looking forward to exchange experiences after July. 🙂

  20. Olga

    hello, I wonder if kids can start to speak English automatically with their not English speaker relatives if they just have 2h classes in kindergarten with native teacher each day?

  21. Nosie

    Am a south african and my husb is afrikaans speak and we communicate in english but our toddler learn to speak my languege and his father want him to learn his two is that not to much for him to hear three langueges at the age of 2

  22. Ned Oshiro

    I am a Japanese teaching English to a group of Japanese children and adults in Japan. One of the most asked questions from young Japanese parents who have babies or toddlers is that teaching Japanese and English to these young children at the same time might confuse them mainly because the origins of Japanese and English are completely different, compared with young children in the U.S. and Europe learning two or three languages at the same time. They said the languages they are learning originally derived from the same Romance language group. What do you make of this?

    • Hi Ned,
      No matter which languages children are learning, there is no confusion. Children are able to distinguish any languages from birth whether they be similar or different.
      There are pro’s and con’s of both. For example with similar languages such as Italian and Spanish, many words are similar, so children have to learn when to use different words and when to use the same. While with languages such as English and Japanese, they are completely different, so it may seem easier to some, because there is a clear difference. It really depends.
      Reading and writing may be a bit more complex on the other hand. When languages are similar, it makes it easier to sound out and pronounce words. When languages have a different alphabet or use symbols, children have to learn two different systems. It doesn’t mean it is harder, it just means there is more to learn.
      I think you can reassure these parents that their children will not get confused learning Japanese and English. However they will need to put in effort in order for them to become bilingual and bi-literate.

  23. Another great post!

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