As a bilingual speech-language pathologist, I'm often contacted by concerned parents who are worried that exposing their children to two languages is confusing. If you are a parent who is concerned about this, you are certainly not alone. Here, we set the record straight for you and all other concerned parents out there; learning two languages, whether simultaneously or sequentially, does not confuse children.
The concept that learning more than one language causes confusion for children is frequently spread by unknowing professionals and members of the community. There are a number of myths that contribute to this idea. I’ve listed a few of these myths below along with the facts.
1. Myth: Bilingual Children Confuse Languages
Many bilingual children speak phrases or sentences wherein they switch between languages; this is also known as code switching. Code switching leads many people to believe that children are confused about which language(s) to use. Although switching between languages may make it seem like a child is confused, code switching is actually a normal part of bilingual language development and is not a cause for concern.
2. Myth: Bilingual Children Exhibit Delayed Speech
There is a common misconception that children who learn more than one language will be delayed in talking. This idea is disproven by research time and time again. Bilingual children develop communication skills at similar rates and ages as monolingual children and are not at a higher risk for communication delays.
3. Myth: Children with Developmental Disabilities Cannot Learn Two Languages
Similar to the belief that being bilingual will lead a child to have speech delays, there is also a misconception that children who have developmental disabilities will be confused by hearing two languages and, as such, will be incapable of learning them.
Numerous researchers have examined this misconception with children exhibiting specific language impairments, autism spectrum disorder, and Down syndrome. All conclusions were the same: children with developmental disabilities are not confused by two languages and are capable of learning both languages.
4.Myth: Non-English Speaking Children Will Be Confused by In-School English Use
Another common bilingualism myth is that a non-English speaking child will be confused when hearing English for the first time upon entering school. Again, this myth is not supported by evidence. In fact, researchers have found that if a child has a strong base in their native language (e.g., Spanish), they will learn the second language (e.g., English) that much more quickly and easily.
Although these myths and concerns are still prevalent, the truth is that learning more than one language does not cause confusion and, instead, has many advantages. First and foremost, encouraging children to learn more than one language will allow them to engage in conversations with family and friends from different cultural and linguistic backgrounds. Additionally, research shows that bilingualism helps children to better understand others’ perspectives.
Bilingual children are also found to have stronger cognitive skills than their monolingual counterparts. When thinking about setting your child up for future success, it’s also important to recognize that a person who is bilingual or multilingual is more marketable in the workforce.
If you began reading this blog post with the fear that exposing your child to two or more languages is confusing them, I am hopeful that the fear has been washed away. You should feel confident about speaking to your child in any and all of your languages, knowing that it will not cause any ill effects. In fact, by encouraging bilingual language development, you are setting your child up for great success.
Courtney Caruso, M.S., CCC-SLP is a bilingual (English/Spanish) speech-language pathologist and the owner and founder of Liberty Speech Associates LLC, a speech therapy practice located in Hackettstown, NJ. She is also the co-author of the book From Meals to Milestones: 35 Delicious Dishes to Encourage Child Development. For more information about Courtney, visit her website at www.libertyspeechassociates.com.