COMMON MYTHS ABOUT BILINGUALISM AND MULTILINGUALISM- DISPELLED
MYTH #1. Children growing up in a home with more than one language will inevitably get confused.
TRUTH. Research has repeatedly proven that children are actually quite the masters at figuring out different language systems (read: languages; no matter the number). Our brains are uniquely capable of separating, learning, and mastering multiple languages. However, we do have to experience ongoing language learning opportunities for the bilingual/ multilingual development to unfold successfully.
MYTH #2. Children growing up in culturally/ linguistically diverse households are more likely to be language delayed.
TRUTH. It does appear that initially for some bilingual/ multilingual brains it may take a tiny bit longer to start expressing wants/ ideas verbally. In research this phenomenon is generally explained by the brain's response to an increase in language demands and the growing need to accumulate more (receptive) language knowledge before putting it all into action- words. NOTE: this very temporary "lagging behind" is not to be confused with an actual language delay or disorder, neither of which will quite "catch up" to typical development as it eventually does in the case of bilingual/ multilingual speaker. A speech-language pathologist experienced in evaluating culturally and linguistically diverse children will be able to make this differential diagnosis/conclusion. So avoid jumping into erroneous conclusions.
MYTH #3. The more languages a child learns the less sophisticated his/her verbal expression becomes.
TRUTH. Actually, what we see clinically and what we find in ongoing research on bilingualism/ multilingualism is the exact opposite. Typically developing children from culturally and linguistically diverse homes grow up to be not only fully competent speakers, communicators, and thinkers but individuals who truly shine with verbal and overall cognitive abilities. Moreover, studies have also indicated that the cognitive and linguistic skills of the bilingual/ multilingual children often measure above average as compared to their monolingual peers.
MYTH #4. Bilingual/ Multilingual children always end up "mixing" languages as they cannot separate the different language systems.
TRUTH. Depending on the bilingualism/ multilingualism model you choose to follow, your child may or may not mix languages, which by the way is a totally typical and appropriate developmental phase and tendency in non-monolingual learners (this is well described in the literature). In general, children from linguistically diverse families will at some point mix languages, especially if these languages are introduced at about the same age. Again, observing this alone is never suggestive of a language delay or disorder.
MYTH #5. Children growing up in a culturally/linguistically diverse homes should stop speaking their native language once they begin American (mainstream) schooling. PLEASE- NO.
TRUTH. Research conducted both in the US and across the globe in countries where bilingualism/ multilingualism is a natural occurrence for many families points to the importance of maintaining the heritage language (languages) for reasons way beyond cultural and linguistic self-identity. What studies have consistently found over the years is that children who have maintained their heritage language (think both socially and academically) are actually at an advantage in their overall linguistic, cognitive, and social development, often demonstrating superior performance in these domains as compared to the monolingual peers. Bottom line- it appears that developing and mastering more than one language makes the brain smarter not slower or lagging behind. However, it is true that in order to reap these linguistic and cognitive benefits we must commit to creating ongoing rich opportunities for language learning and do so with a variety of participants (peers, adults, teachers) and across all social contexts, including within academics (example: practice doing your math homework in Chinese or whatever your heritage language is).
What has your experience been growing up while learning more than one language? How has this impacted your life or the life of your child? We would love to know your story.
Hope you enjoyed this read and learned a thing or two while at it! For specific references on the research points stated in this post please contact me directly. The reference list would be too long to type up:)
Thanks for reading and happy talking!