Common Bilingual Myths
Are you wondering if you should raise your child as a bilingual? This post will bring up some common questions that parents ask me in my clinical practice.
If you have been following my Instagram, you know that I started a brief series on bilingual myths. I will summarize them here and add two more questions!
Why is it important to talk about bilingual myths?
There are just lots of myths and ideas about bilingualism. Many suggest that being bilingual or learning a second language can confuse children or even cause a language delay. However, research has told a different story!
1) Does learning a second language cause a language delay?
No, it does not! Bilingual and monolingual children reach meet their vocabulary milestones at the same time. However, it is important to consider BOTH languages when counting how many words your child knows. When you only look at one language, it may look like your child is delayed in meeting their vocabulary milestones. But when you look at your child as a WHOLE in both languages, they are meeting the same vocabulary milestones as their monolingual peers. Plus, if you think about it, SO many people are bilingual in the world and acquire language just fine.
2) Can my child who is language delayed learn a second language?
Yes, they can. Bilingual children demonstrate the same difficulties with learning grammar as their monolingual peers who are language delayed. This is to be expected because they are language delayed, but they still learn both languages.
3) Does learning two languages confuse children?
No, it does not! When children use two languages in a sentence, some may consider that they are confused, but this is VERY normal. We call this code-switching. Code-switching is when you use two languages in a sentence and there are surprisingly "rules" on how code-switching occurs. If you're a bilingual, try using two languages in a sentence. You'll notice that there's a pattern in how you do that because there are rules that govern this.
4) Can my child with autism learn two languages?
Research has shown that exposure to two languages in children with autism has no negative effect on language learning. In fact, there are potential benefits of being a bilingual including better vocabulary scores and non-verbal IQ scores.
5) Are bilingual children more likely to have language delay?
No, bilingual children are NOT more likely to have a language delay. This goes back to looking at vocabulary in both languages which may affect how parents think about their child's language skills. For example, if a bilingual child has 50 words in Mandarin and 50 words in English, but a monolingual child has 100 words in English, it may look like the bilingual child is behind if you're just looking at English. However, as a whole the child is comparable to their monolingual peers.
6) Should each parent use a different language with the child?
Usually, this question is asked as a result of thinking that children may be confused if a parent uses two languages. However, as we have discussed above, children are not confused by code-switching so this notion is not supported.
Things you can do to support your child learning two languages:
- Model language that you are comfortable in. When you are comfortable in that language, you model more sentences that are grammatically correct and you can model more words for them to learn.
- Provide lots of opportunities to learn BOTH languages. The more exposure that a child gets to that language, that more they will learn that language. If you only use a second language in one situation, it will very hard for your child to become fluent in that language.
- Provide QUALITY exposure to both languages. Children learn best during face to face interactions with another person. Reading also supports language learning. Television does not support language learning. It is associated with lower vocabulary scores.
If you are ever concerned about your child's language development, always seek professional advice from a speech-language pathologist. When possible, seek advice EARLY. Early intervention is important for children with language delays/disorders.
Byers-Heinlein K, Lew-Williams C. Bilingualism in the Early Years: What the Science Says. Learn Landsc. 2013;7(1):95-112.
Goldstein, B., & Kohnert, K. (2005). Speech, language, and hearing in developing bilingual children. Language, Speech, and Hearing Services in Schools.
Gutiérrez-Clellen, V. F., Simon-Cereijido, G., & Wagner, C. (2008). Bilingual children with language impairment: A comparison with monolinguals and second language learners. Applied psycholinguistics, 29(1), 3.
Nicoladis, E., & Genesee, F. (1997). Language development in preschool bilingual children.
Trelles, M. P., & Castro, K. (2019). Bilingualism in Autism Spectrum Disorder: Finding Meaning in Translation. Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 58(11), 1035.