There are lots of common myths about children growing up hearing two or more languages, and not all of them are true. Our very own Emilia has busted the following five myths that many people have about bilingual language development!
Myth #1: I should only speak one language to my child.
Speaking in more than one language does not confuse your child! Research shows that they will develop two separate language systems. Yes, they may initially say some sentences in more than one language, but this is just as common with adults who speak more than one language. Your child will develop the skills to be able to know which language to speak to which person.
Myth #2: Each parent should only speak one language.
You do not need to separate languages across different speakers. They will be able to recognise the different languages even when spoken by different people. It is best to expose your child to a “chunk” of a language and then change to the other language, but it isn’t important who is doing the speaking!
Myth #3: My child’s dominant language should be as developed as their peers’.
Most bilingual children have a dominant language, which is the one they use more often than the other. Many parents of bilingual children can worry that their child’s language is not as developed as their peers’. For example, a parent might say to us, “My child speaks English and Spanish. But I’m worried that his English isn’t as good as others his age.”
It’s important to remember that it’s unfair to compare a bilingual child’s dominant language to that of children who only speak one language. It is often the case that a bilingual child’s skills will simply take a little longer to come through in both languages.
Myth #4: My child’s language skills need to be the same in both languages.
Bilingual children can have different strengths in each language. For example, they may know all the words for school-related objects in English, and then home-related words in Spanish. Or they might be stronger at comprehending in one language, but better at speaking in another. It’s okay if the skills aren’t the same across the two.
Myth #5: We should mainly focus on English.
Fostering the development of two languages is a wonderful way for your child to have better connections with extended family and the rich heritage that often goes hand in hand with a second language. Research also shows that being exposed to more than one language can benefit your child’s early reading skills.
For further information, or to read where I’ve sourced some of these ideas, you can read Erika Hoff’s article ‘What Clinicians Need to Know about Bilingual Development’ (2005).
Thanks for reading!