by Eileen Burton
I have been raised a bilingual, and there’s a handful myths on the subject of raising bilingual children that continue to surprise me. First of all, who says that there has to be certain age to learning a language? I know a lot people who have learned a language during their undergraduate studies while attending a school in a foreign country. And yes, they are pretty fluent!
Then there’s the myth that children don’t “master” any single language if they learn more than one. Well, that’s probably because they didn’t bother trying to master either of them. What you know is what you learn, so if you give all your efforts to fluently speaking a certain language, it doesn’t matter how many more you know, you’ll learn to master it!
Being a bilingual myself, I believe I am qualified enough to bust 5 common myths that need to go out the window!
Actually, it’s not that bad. In fact, as many as 130 counties out of 195 countries consist of a population that is bilingual. Not only do they learn how to speak their own languages, but they also get to learn English (or others) while they’re in school. There are even some countries where almost the entire population gets to grow up with two or more languages which they have to use frequently throughout their life. This is proof to the fact that bilingualism does not “confuse” any child—it just becomes a part of them. Don’t believe me? Ask any bilingual across the globe.
Having to go through the effort of learning one language completely (by the way, when is learning a language ever “complete”?), makes it all the more difficult to learn a new language all over again, at a later period in life. This is true if you are acquiring the language during teenage years or as an adult. It’s best to expose the child to both languages when the absorption period is strongest (before age 6).
Code mixing, which is the mixing of two languages within a sentence or a conversation is quite normal among bilinguals. Code mixing is not sign of language delay or confusion, but rather a sign of proficiency. Even adults tend to mix two languages while they speak to other bilinguals.
People change and adjust according to new environments such as place of work, school, the web, etc. It’s not uncommon to adjust to these changes with a new language as well. Granted, there is period where language absorption skills are the highest (earliest ages). However, several studies have counterattacked this notion by pointing out that children who learn a language in elementary school have better comprehension and are more likely to develop advanced vocabulary, grammar, and conversational skills.
Furthermore, children who learn a language at a young age only “acquire” both accurate and inaccurate ways of speaking the language, but children who learn at older ages are more advantaged, because they learn with accuracy.
Learning a language is hard—no denying that. It takes most of us years to fluently speak, write, and read a language. Simply exposing your child to a language –even if it’s just a half year long elective class taken only twice a week—is not enough. According to Fred Genesee (PDF), an expert in bilingualism and professor at McGill University, “children need to be exposed to another language for at least 30% of their total language exposure/acquisition to become a bilingual”.
Raising children as bilinguals definitely takes a lot of planning and hard work—particularly to create that productive, language-learning environment. But with the numerous benefits bilingualism offers in the multicultural settings of today, it’s more than worth it.
Eileen Burton is a professional bilingual coach currently working an online firm that offers assistance clients who want to buy academic assignment. She is also a passionate writer who loves blogging about topics that pique her interest.