Myths about early childhood bilingualism

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febrero 7, 2018
marzo 23, 2018
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Myths about early childhood bilingualism

Myths about early childhood bilingualism

Nowadays, the society has a growing interest in bilingualism. The value of learning additional languages has increased during the past 20 years as a result of globalization in many spheres of our lives (economy, tourism, science…). According to Genesee (2015), parents have been showing a growing interest in children who learn languages in diverse contexts and under diverse circumstances, such as, bilingual families; bilingual education; contact with others cultures, educational trips abroad; among other.

This frequent contact which children have with other language has led to the creation of wrong ideas and myths about bilingualism. These ideas influence how they look at other people’s children and influence how professionals such as teachers, doctors, and speech therapists advise parents of children growing up bilingually (De Houwer, 1999).

In this article, we are going to try to dispel some of the myths about children growing up bilingually and offers suggestions that can help children become fluent users of two or more languages. In obedience to this fact, we are going to discuss the following issues: listening to two or more languages in childhood is not a cause of language disorder or language delay; children’s use of two languages within one sentence is not a sign of confusion; and children do not just “pick up” a language, they need a strongly supportive and rich environment (De Houwer, 1999).

Taking into account the first issue, beeing in contact with two or more languages in childhood is not a cause of language disorder or language delay; King & Fogle (2006) exposed that it is important to differentiate between the popular use of the term language delay in reference to a child who is perceived to take longer than average to begin to speak but who is well within the normal range of productive vocabulary development; and the clinical use of the term to refer to significant delays in the development of language, which can be either primary (not associated with another disorder, such as aphasia, dysphasia, chronological language delay, etc.) or secondary (associated with conditions such as autism). A lack of understanding of the different uses of the term may result in an undue concern for some parents interested in raising their children with two languages. As De Houwer (1999) summarizes, “There is no scientific evidence to date that hearing two or more languages leads to delays or disorders in language acquisition”.

Genesee (2015), exposed that bilingual acquisition is as natural as monolingual acquisition and that it is not an additional burden for children in comparison to the challenges that children learning one language face. Simultaneous bilinguals follow the same developmental patterns and exhibit the same rate of language development as monolingual children. What is more, there are some advantages to learning and knowing other languages: some researchers have shown that bilingual children enjoy certain cognitive advantages in comparison to monolinguals.

Another issue we should consider is that children’s use of two languages within one sentence is not a sign of confusión. When children have the ability to switch back and forth between languages, sometimes called code-switching, is a sign of mastery of two linguistic systems, not a sign of language confusion, and that children as young as 2 are able to code-switch in socially appropriate ways (Lanza, 1992). It is also true that, while bilingual children sometimes use words from two languages in the same sentence, they produce far more sentences using only one language. This shows that they are able to keep their languages separate (De Houwer, 1999). Even, that confusion could be avoided if each parent uses one-language approach to their bilingual child rearing. Some Research also shows that many normally developing bilingual children mix their two languages, depending on environmental factors, such as how much the parents or wider community engage in code-switching (King & Fogle, 2006).

And the third point to consider is children need a strongly supportive and rich environment to develop both languages, they must have frequent linguistic contacts, with their parents, with their family, at school, among others. People often think that bilingual children “pick up” a language easily and it is a wrong idea because it is a hard process and they have to dedicate time and effort to it; at the same time, parents and others (such as school) who care for children who are being raised bilingually should take active responsibility to ensure that they get adequate exposure to both languages to ensure that both are fully acquired (Genesee, 2015). Learning a language is a process that takes many years because languages, in general, are very complex and to learn all their complexities, it is necessary a lot of life experiences.

In this process, the environment plays an important role in learning to speak. Children learn to speak when they listen to people talk to them in many different circumstances, such as, at school, at home, with the family, with friends, etc. Language development in the early stages depends crucially on vocabulary knowledge. The more words children know, the better they will learn to speak (De Houwer, 1999).

According to the exposed, some recommendations to consider to improve their children’s skills could be:

  1. reading books, which is an excellent source of help in the acquisition of vocabulary. Book reading in any language plays a highly supportive role not only in the learning of language but also in the emotional bonding between child and parent.
  2. play music and sing songs. Many children are able to sing songs before they can even speak. Using music to learn a languageor improve your bilingual children’s language skills is a powerful too.
  3. make sure your children hear both languages frequently and in a variety of natural circumstances.
  4. Immersing your child in a languageis one of the best ways to improve their fluency.
  5. Create opportunities for your children to use all of the languages they hear.
  6. Talk to all your children in the same way. Let me exemplify this concept, do not use one language with the elder child and another with the younger, because it could cause that one of them may feel excluded.
  7. Avoid abrupt changes in how you talk to your children.
  8. Don’t suddenly decide to speak in another language to them if you have only been using, for example, English.
  9. If you feel strongly about your children using one particular language with you, encourage them to use it in all of their communication with you.
  10. If you feel your child is not talking as he or she should in the preschool years, have a hearing test done, even if teachers or doctors tell you that bilingualism is the cause of any language delays.
  11. Whatever else, follow your own intuition about what is best for you and your family. (De Houwer, 1999).

What is exposed in this article has great implications for parents, educators, and other professionals, who work with dual language learners? Learning two languages is as natural as learning one and that, given the right learning environment, most children can acquire two languages simultaneously at the same rate and in the same way as monolingual children.

Although there are still many unanswered questions concerning early childhood bilingualism, we have sufficient research evidence to dispel fears based on myths which were identified at the beginning of this article. Moreover, we have sufficient evidence to expand efforts to create opportunities for many younger children to become bilingual. We have nothing to lose and much to gain.


Genesee, F. (2015). Myths about early childhood bilingualism. Canadian Psychology/Psychologie canadienne, 56(1), 6-15.

De Houwer, A. (1999). Two or more languages in early childhood: Some general points and practical recommendations. Washington, DC: Center for Applied Linguistics. Retrieved March 4, 2005, from .org/resources/digest/earlychild.html

King K., & Fogle L. 2006 Raising bilingual children: Common parental concerns and current research. In CALdigest Series. Washington, DC: Center for Applied Linguistics.

Lanza, E. (1992). Can bilingual two-year-olds code- switch? Journal of Child Language, 19, 633-658.

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Myths about early childhood bilingualism