Here are the most persistent myths on raising bilingual childrenYour child will be confused by learning more than one language.
This belief is prevalent in monolingual countries and has far more politics than science to back it up. Rest assured that your child's little brain has more than enough neurons firing to cope with two languages (or even more) without frizzing out. On the contrary, decades of research in countless studies actually show significant cognitive advantages to being multilingual. And what about the experience of millions of families around the world where multilingualism is the norm, not the exception? Just look at Canada, Belgium, Switzerland, and Finland -- to mention a few.I can see two languages, maybe, but more than that is too much.
Considering how much babies have to learn in their first years of life, another language really doesn't add much to the load. As long the child is getting regular interactions in the second (or third) language, there wont be problems. There is a reason why a two-year old child has fifty percent more synapses than an adult! Also, even if your child does not end up speaking all the languages, dont underestimate the value of a passive language, i.e. understanding it but not yet speaking it. If you already understand a language it is magnitudes easier to learn it later in school or as an adult, compared to someone whod never heard it before. So, even just understanding another language is most definitely not a wasted effort.Your kid is going to get all these languages mixed up.
It is true that some mixing will occur, but that is both harmless and temporary. As the child builds her vocabulary in each language, this phenomenon automatically disappears. How many monolingual children automatically fix mistakes after correct usage has been learned?
For example, children begin by saying things like Me want, when they mean "I want." And how many of them are still saying, Me want, at five? Eventually, the multilingual child learns correct usage in the same fashion as any other child. If you dont mix languages in your own conversation, itll make it much simpler for your child to remain consistent as well.Why start now? Later your kid will pick it up in no time.
For all those who think its a huge intellectual burden on your child to grow up with multiple languages, therell be those who will tell you how easy it is. Just go to a Spanish playgroup once a week. You dont even have to be so strict about speaking it yourself to her all the time. This is highly unrealistic. Studies indicate that children need exposure to a different language about one third of their waking hours to become actively bilingual. Theyll likely understand a lot with less interaction, but they probably wont be able to speak it themselves. Learning a second language is simple for children, relative to adults, but in the beginning they actually need to hear a word thousands of times before it sticks -- unless its a bad word, then miraculously you only have to say it onceReading and writing in several languages? Some kids cant even handle that in one language.
Its true that many children have difficulties reading and writing well. However, reading and writing is a coding / decoding process and is not linked to the number of languages a child speaks, as such -- although it could involve multiple alphabets, and then be a bit more work. Interestingly enough, access to multiple languages actually makes it easier for children to understand the nature of language itself, which, in turn, improves overall literacy skills. Research supports what many parents have long felt: that multilingual children have better-developed linguistic understanding.
Finally, if you are in a hurry or find that politely ignoring the opinions thrown your way doesnt work, you can always ask if they think Einsteins intellect suffered growing up with both German and Italian. And, he didnt start talking until he was three years old either, but he certainly seemed to make up for lost time!
Christina Bosemark is the founder of Multilingual Childrens Association, http://www.multilingualchildren.org, the definitive guide to raising bilingual children featuring expert advice and real world wisdom with parent discussions, resource directory, tips, articles and more. Ask us you most burning questions or share your own experiences here!