Across the world, most individuals are either bilingual (speaking two languages) or multilingual (speaking multiple languages). Today in Australia, many children grow up being exposed to more than one language. While English remains the single community majority language spoken, a sizable proportion of the Australian population reported speaking a language other than English at home. That being said, parents often ask the question: Can I speak more than one language with my child?
Myths about bilingualism in children:
Myth: Learning two languages is confusing for my child
Reality: When children use two languages in a sentence or a conversation, some parents worry that this is a sign of language confusion. However, code switching, or using two languages in a sentence or conversation, is common. In fact, some researchers view code switching as a sign of bilingual proficiency.
Myth: Learning two languages causes language delays
Reality: While it is true that some bilingual children may start saying their first words slightly later than their monolingual peers, they will still achieve their communication milestones just like their monolingual counterparts. For example, they will still say their first words between 8-15 months old. If your bilingual child is demonstrating significant delays in language milestone achievement, these delays may be caused by an underlying speech and language disorder, rather than bilingualism. Children with a communication disorder should be seen by a speech therapist.
Myth: Parents should use the ‘one-parent-one-language’ approach when teaching their children speak two languages.
Reality: Some parents believe that by having each parent speak a different language to the child, the child will be exposed to both languages equally. Whilst this is one of the many ways you could introduce two languages to your child, there is no evidence to suggest that this is the best way to teach children two languages. There are many ways we can introduce two languages. The best way to communicate with your child is to use what is natural and comfortable to you.
Myth: If you want your child to speak English, you should stop speaking your home language with the child.
Reality: There is currently no evidence to suggest that the use of the second language in the home environment is needed for the child to successfully use this language in other social settings (eg. at school). Parents should continue to use the home language with the child because there is evidence suggesting that a strong foundation in the home language can enhance second language learning. Preventing your child from learning the home language can also cause the child to feel isolated in the home environment.
Myth: Bilinguals need to translate from their first language to the second language when they communicate.
Reality: Bilingual children are capable of thinking in two languages. There is no evidence to suggest that bilingual children can only think in one language and then translate into the other language when necessary.
Myth: The older a person is, the harder it is to acquire a second language.
Reality: Although children are more likely to achieve native-like pronunciation when they start learning the second language at a young age, older children and adults are just as capable as young children to acquire a second language.
Myth: Children with special needs or a language delay are not capable of learning two languages
Reality: There is no evidence to suggest that children who have a language disorder are not able to acquire two languages. In fact, there is emerging evidence that suggests that learning two languages can be beneficial for children with additional needs. If a child can learn one language, the child will be able to learn two languages.
How to support bilingual language development:
- Speak to your child in the language that you are comfortable using.
- Play games and sing songs in the language that you are fluent in.
- Read and tell stories to your child.
- Follow your child’s lead – if your child is interested in a particular book, keep talking about it and encourage your child to talk about it too.
- Never criticize your child’s language, rather, model the correct use of language by repeating the statements back to him/her in the correct way.
If you are concerned about your child’s speech and language development, call us on (03) 9809-5947, or send us an email: [email protected]
Other useful resources:
This blog was written by our in-house Speech Pathologist, Fiona Low. Fiona is fluent in English and Mandarin, and enjoys working with children from preschool years through to adolescence.
To learn more about Fiona, click here.