All about children!

The bilingual myth

Being bilingual has many, many benefits. I know from experience! However, there are still people who believe that being bilingual can have negative effects on our life, our work and even our ability to communicate effectively. 

Here are some of the most common myths about bilingualism.

Bilinguals acquire their two or more languages in childhood. Not necessarily. Many adults become bilingual because they move from one country (or region) to another and have to acquire a second language. If they practice every day, they will be able to be proficient. However, there are many levels of proficiency, which leads us to our next myth…

Bilinguals have equal and perfect knowledge of their languages. Not true necessarily! Bilinguals will learn the languages as much as they need them and as much as they use them. Some bilinguals are dominant in one language, do not know how to read and write in one of their languages. Only a few people have equal proficiency in both (or more) of their languages. 

Real bilinguals have no accent in their different languages. Also not true!  Having an accent or not in a language does not make you more or less bilingual. It depends on when you acquired your languages, and if you learn the rules of the sounds, you can decrease your accent.

Bilinguals are born translators. Not necessarily. Bilinguals may be able to translate simple things from one language to another, but in order to translate you have to know about the audience and specific vocabulary.

Mixing languages is a sign of laziness in bilinguals. Definitely wrong! Mixing languages such as code-switching and borrowing is a very common behavior in bilinguals speaking to other bilinguals. Mixing languages is mostly used when an expression or words are better said in the one or the other language. (We do this all the time!)

Bilinguals are also bicultural. Not necessarily. Many bilinguals know the two languages but don’t know much about the culture of one of the languages.

Bilingualism will delay language acquisition in children. Definitely wrong! Depending on their age, they are acquiring two languages, simultaneously and they might be bicultural as well. There are many things that can influence their proficiency however, that does not mean they are going to have a language delay. We have to keep in mind that bilingual children, because they have to deal with two or more languages, are different in some ways from monolingual children, but definitely not on rate of language acquisition. (More of this in future posts).

The language spoken in the home will have a negative effect on the acquisition of the school language, when the latter is different. Not true. The home language can be used as a base for acquiring aspects of the second language. It also gives children a known language to communicate in (with parents, caretakers, and, even teachers) while acquiring the other.

If parents want their children to grow up bilingual, they should use the one person – one language approach. Not necessarily. There are many ways of making sure a child grows up bilingual. That is one approach, but not the only one. In a future post I will give some ideas of how to raise a bilingual child. Stay tuned! 

Children raised bilingual will always mix their languages. No again. If bilingual children interact in both bilingual and monolingual situations, then they learn to mix languages at certain times only. Children know when they can be bilingual and when they need to be monolingual (in either language).

What are your thoughts about bilingualism? Are you bilingual?

photo: iStock

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Comments on: "The bilingual myth" (5)

  1. Hola, A que edad es recomendable introducir a los niños a varios idiomas.

  2. […] For anyone setting out on the journey of raising bilingual children or for those thinking of changing their approach, Vanessa at Language, Music and More has written a very useful post summarizing the different approaches parents can take in raising their child bilingually, including a discussion of factors that might make one method more suitable than another. She has also taken the time to explode many of the myths surrounding bilinguals and bilingualism. […]

  3. Excellent article! I do have one thing to add. I believe that to be truly fluent in a language, it is essential to understand the culture. Culture and language are inextricably intertwined and to be able to communicate all the nuances in a language, a person must also understand how the people think.

    • I completely agree with you. Many words and phrases of a language have so much to do with the culture. That is the reason English from England and English from the USA can have so many different words. The same thing happens with all the latino countries. We may speak Spanish, but how different our conversation can be!
      Thanks Maria!

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