So you’re raising a bilingual child? Aren’t you worried that you’re just going to confused him or delay language development? Why don’t you wait until his first language is established before you try to teach a second or third language?
I’ve heard it all before and I am sure you have too. Whenever you are raising your child to speak more than one language there are a lot of myths, opinions and questions out there about whether you are doing what’s right for your child or not. It’s hard to get skeptics on board (if you’d like to learn a few tips on how to do so, check out our blog post) and you may just feel like you don’t even have the time to deal with those skeptics! But the reality is that these questions and myths may be weighing on your mind. But I’m here to share with you a few things that simply won’t happen just because you are raising your child(ren) to speak more than one language.
Bilingualism Will Not Cause Your Child To Be Confused
This seems to be one of the top concerns of parents wanting to raise a multilingual child. It’s one of the most common posting topics on parenting boards and groups all across the internet. Questions like “will I confuse my child if I try to teach them 3 languages?” “Will I confuse my child if I don’t stick to OPOL?” “Will my child be confused if I switch from one language to another?” “Will it confuse my child if I’m not a native speaker of the target language?” “Will it confuse my child if I have an accent?” Well, the short answer to all of these questions is simply NO.
Rest assured, young children are hardwired to learn language. In fact, at birth, an infant can already distinguish between languages and even shows preference for mom’s language. Even if you find that your child uses mixed sentences and vocabulary from different languages, it doesn’t mean they are confused. As they get older, they will sort the languages into the correct boxes. By the time my oldest was three, she could tell you “orange is how you say it in English and Anaranjado is how you say it in Español.” And she’s not the only one! As a preschool teacher in a bilingual classroom, I can tell you that every bilingual child can do this and will flip from one language to the other with no confusion.
Now, this is not to take away from the benefits of using one parent one language, minority language at home or any other method you have for teaching languages. They serve to organize ourselves as adults and give us a method of ensuring enough language exposure in each language that our child is learning. But the point is, no matter what method you choose, or whether you stick to the method 100% of the time or not, your child will not be confused!
Bilingualism Will Not Cause Your Child To Have Language Delays
This myth is very popular among skeptics and parents alike. The concern that speaking more than one language will cause your child to take longer to speak or will cause your child to have difficulties with speech is very common. Some parents choose to forgo teaching a second language until the child’s first language is “developed” because of this. And there are some parents who choose to continue raising multilingual children in spite of this fear, but figure eventually the child will sort it all out. The reality is that being multilingual does not cause speech delays.
It’s important to remember that children all develop at different rates and the range of normal speech development is very wide. Bilingual and multilingual children who experience speech delays would have experienced the delay even if they had only been raised in one language. You can see this happening within single families, where a child may develop a speech delay and another child will not.
There is concern, however, that parents may ignore a child’s speech delay because they assume it’s just confusion or delay caused by speaking more than one language and that eventually they will sort it out. I have seen this happen with parents and with the school system as well. A child’s language difficulties or delay are attributed to the home language or to their second language and the fact that there is a real problem is overlooked. Remember, early intervention can make a world of different in a child’s speech and development and can save them a lot of future difficulties and heartache. So, if you are concerned, don’t delay getting help from your doctor, teacher, or speech therapist. It’s better to tackle the problem early on and even discover that there is no problem than let it slide and create more difficulties for your child later on.
Bilingualism Will Not Cause Your Child To Be a Slower Reader
Just like language delays, there is absolutely no evidence that speaking more than one language will cause your child difficulties in learning to read. In fact, many children successfully learn to read in multiple languages all at the same time. It really is up to you and your child whether you want them to read in one language at a time or in several languages simultaneously.
A child’s reading success does not depend on whether they are bilingual or not, but it does depend on several other factors that you can start influencing from the time of their conception! The number one thing is how much you read to your child! In fact, Reading aloud is the “the single most important activity for building the knowledge required for eventual success in reading." It’s also the greatest predictor of future achievement for children. Read to your child every day in each language in order to ensure they will be successful readers and in order to further develop their language and your relationship.
Bilingualism Will Not Hurt Your Child’s I.Q Level
In the past, researchers, teachers, doctors and the general populace believed that bilingualism negatively affected the cognitive abilities of people. For generations, in the U.S. it was expected for people to adapt and assimilate to the customs and language of the land and people were encouraged to leave their traditional languages behind. Current research, however, shows that bilingualism actually has many cognitive as well as social advantages.
Being bilingual affects the executive functions of the brain, meaning it enhances the ability to select or ignore information. Bilingual individuals demonstrate greater flexibility in thinking, perform better on standardized tests, are better at planning and decision making, switching between tasks, understanding others and listening. They also have better memories, impulse control, they are more creative and are better able to focus.
Bilingualism Will Not Cause Your Child to Become Isolated From The Majority Culture
Our desire to fit in and for our children to fit in can make us worry about whether teaching our children a different language will keep them from making friends or integrating into society. Especially when we look at our past, we may feel like we were too “different” and we may not want that for our children. In our globalizing world, however, the concept of being bilingual and bicultural is so much more common! By teaching our children not only about language, but also about culture, we are helping them embrace many facets of who they are and we are encouraging them to accept others and be more tolerant of differences. As long as you focus on being bicultural, as well as being bilingual, you are not going to be isolating your child. In fact, you will be opening up more doors for him or her!
As parents, we are all trying to do the best for our kids. We have so many questions and doubts about whether we are doing the right thing or not, but don’t let any of the above myths become a concern in your world. There’s plenty other things to worry about!
If you would like to learn more about the research that has been done on bilingualism and multilingualism, please check out the links below:
Marian, V., Faroqi-Shah, Y., Kaushanskaya, M., Blumenfeld, H., & Sheng, L. (2009). Bilingualism: Consequences for language, cognition, development, and the brain. The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association Leader, 14, 10-13. [pdf]
What about you? Do you have any concerns about raising bilingual children? Or how about any myths to debunk? Share your ideas in the comments below!
About the Author
Keli Garcia Allen is a certified Spanish teacher and currently works as a Preschool teacher in a bilingual classroom. She is the Head of Content for Learn Safari and is currently working on English Safari, a game for children 4-10 years old who speak Spanish and want to learn English. You can follow her and the rest of the team on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.