Is bilingualism better?
Bilingualism is being able to use two or more languages in everyday life. Many children around the world are growing up exposed to two languages from an early age. Parents of bilingual children have lots of questions about bilingualism.
There are contradicting views about raising children in a bilingual environment. Those ideas against bilingualism are often based on misperceptions and myths. This article will address the most concerns about childhood bilingualism.
Bilingualism does not confuse children
One of the biggest concerns parents have regarding bilingualism is whether it will cause confusion to children. Research has found that children are able to distinguish between two languages, and develop two separate linguistic systems. Bilingual children can switch from one language to another, and can mix words from both languages in the same sentence, just like adult bilinguals. This is known as code-switching. There are many reasons behind code-switching in bilingual children. One reason is that children are exposed to code – switching frequently in their environment. Another reason is that bilinguals may use words from the other language when they are unable to find the word they need in the language they are speaking.
Keeping both languages separate is unnecessarily successful
Parents are usually advised to use one language with one parent to avoid confusion, when teaching their children two languages. Unfortunately, there is no evidence behind this advice, because there is no evidence that bilingualism confuses children, as mentioned above. It was found that children who hear two languages from both parents learn two languages successfully. Also, it is important to consider the strategies used by parents to endorse bilingualism. Ensuring balanced exposure to the two languages most likely leads to effective acquisition of both languages.
Bilingualism and language development
When children learn two languages at the same time, the rate of development in each language is expected to be slightly slower than monolingual children. This is not surprising; however, evidence suggests that bilingual children catch up to monolingual children, as they grow up. Therefore, bilingual children may be delayed compared to monolingual children, yet still within the normal range of development.
Bilingualism and literacy
Bilingual children who are exposed to two different written languages show high levels of reading and writing abilities. Their perception of the association between written and spoken words is known to be better than monolinguals.
Code-switching is normal!
Code-switching – mixing words from two languages in the same sentence – is frequent amongst bilinguals. Most parents of bilingual children are bilingual themselves, therefore, it is very common to use codeswitching frequently. Unfortunately, there is no enough research conducted about the impact of code-switching on language development. Nonetheless, bilinguals can manage the use codeswitching from an early age.
The best age to learn two languages
Many people think that it is best to learn a language at an early age. The “critical period” theory suggests that learning a second language is easily learnt during early childhood.
The relationship between the biological and environmental factors impact language learning. For example, our brains are more capable to learn language easier earlier in life, but the environment and exposure to language also impacts language learning.
It is known that younger learners develop more native-like pronunciations, and vocabulary than older learners. However, older learners are still able to pick up vocabulary, grammar and academic language. Thus, earlier is better, but it’s never too late to learn a new language.
Bilingualism and language delay
There is a misperception that bilingualism causes language delay in children. Research revealed that although bilingual children’s vocabulary in each language may be smaller, the total number of vocabulary in both languages will be similar to monolingual children.
It is common that bilingual children produce their first words later than monolinguals, but still within the typical range.
If your bilingual child is showing significant delays in language development, s/he should be seen by a speech-language Pathologist.