This post was originally published on Feb. 3rd, 2009 under the title Away with the Myths.
In most parts of the world, being bilingual is seen as an advantage. Back in Peru, my maternal grandfather sent my mother and her sisters to a bilingual (English/Spanish) school from kindergarten on. My parents sent both my sister and I to that same bilingual school. I hope to do the same for my daughter – send her to a bilingual school, that is. And, it seems like we’re not alone. According to some estimates, 75% of the world’s population speaks more than one language.
The most natural way to grow up
But for “many people, especially in countries like the U.S. with a monolingual mainstream culture…being monolingual is the most natural way to grow up,” according to Barbara Zurer Pearson, author of Raising a Bilingual Child. This might be the reason why, in this country, there are so many misconceptions about growing up multilingual.
So, in an effort to promote bilingualism, I thought I’d try to dispel some of these myths for you. Let’s see how many you’ve heard…
Five common myths about raising bilingual children:
- Growing up with two or more languages will only confuse your child.
According to everything I’ve read, this misconception has been around for a long time and apparently it goes back to issues of immigration in the United States. Educators used to tell immigrant parents that it was better for their children to speak English at home – erroneously stating that early exposure to two languages put children at a disadvantage. This is why there are so many third-generation Chavez(es) or Rodriguez(es) in the West that do not speak a word of Spanish. Newer research actually shows there are many advantages to being bilingual, including flexible thinking.
- It takes longer for bilingual children to learn how to speak.
The author of Raising a Bilingual Child, Barbara Zurer Pearson, says this myth is not supported by any scientific evidence. In fact, “with respect to most developmental language milestones, bilinguals are either at the same level as or ahead of monolinguals.”
- They will only end up mixing both languages.
This is inevitable and it’s harmless. But to monolinguals, it’s proof that the child isn’t really able to tell his languages apart. The actual term for this behavior is “code-switching” and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with it. I do it and it’s not because I’m not completely fluent in both English and Spanish, but because sometimes a word sounds better in the language I’m not using.
- It’s too late.
It is never too late. It is only easier when they are younger. According to the Multilingual Children’s Association, the critical period is from 0-3 years of age. “Brain imaging studies show that languages in bilingual infants are stored closer together in the brain than in later bilinguals.” This only means that after 3, children have to put more effort into learning a new language.
- There is only one right way to do it.
In fact there are several ways of raising a child bilingual. The right way is what works for you and your family. Consistency is key. So, whatever method you choose, just make sure you stick to it!
And, if you still have your doubts about all these myths, just ask somebody from Belgium, Canada or Switzerland – among others – where bilingualism is the norm, not the exception!
What myths have you encountered during your bilingual journey?
I will never forget the one workshop attendee back in 2005 who waited until I was finished answering individual questions after my workshop had ended and people had taken their photos and we were the only two left in the room.
She had waited to inform me that I was telling people incorrect information, and that I was aiding in creating language delayed children. I was so stunned and so taken aback by her incorrect research that I simply smiled and told her we were all entitled to our opinions and that my web site had the recent research links.
The myths continue, but it is thanks to web sites like SpanglishBaby.com and people like us who will chunk away at the misconceptions bit by bit!
.-= Beth Butler´s last blog ..Win Award-Winning Boca Beth Bilingual Products for Children and Jump Start Your Child’s Second Language Journey Today! =-.
I was born in 1971 to parents who had immigrated from Cuba. My parents spoke only Spanish at home (of course my siblings spoke English since they were learning in school). When I entered kindergarten, I was placed into a “bilingual program” which is a complete misnomer. The intention was to “straighten” out my language skills, which meant teach me to speak only English since I was speaking in both (this no a bilingual approach, but subtractive instead). I spent all of kindergarten and half of 1st grade in this program, when I was then transitioned into a mainstream classroom.
The result? My Spanish suffered immensely. So much so that at 38, I find myself having to learn so much Spanish again in order to hopefully teach my daughters.
It’s sad that a second language is seen as a hindrance in this country when all over the world being multilingual is an asset. Some of the most brilliant people in the world are multilingual. When will the ignorance and fear in this country end? Because ultimately that is at the root of the opposition of learning another language.
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Great post! I really appreciate reading posts with great information and inspiration. We moved last year to a part of the country with very little dual language schools and it’s driving me crazy! I speak to my son in both languages and the looks I get at the grocery store are funny. I know in my heart that he’s growing up with a global approach to life and for that I am happy.