Home > Bilingual Myths and Misconceptions > The Myths and Realities of Raising Bilingual Children

The Myths and Realities of Raising Bilingual Children

Author: R.K. Albers

Many bilingual parents shy away from introducing their children to a second language because of rumors that multilingualism stunts learning or requires parents to commit to a grueling language regimen.  In reality, raising your children to be bilingual will benefit them in terms of short term classroom success as well as long term college and career opportunities.  And it does not require a Ph.D in lingusitics on your part!  Read on to  separate fact from fiction when it comes to multilingual families.

Myth:  A child should learn one language at a time

Reality:  Children under the age of ten are most receptive to dual language learning

Studies have shown that children as young as a few months old have the ability to discern between two or more languages.  Learning a second or third language at a young age is proven to enhance a child’s cognitive abilities, academic performance, and standardized test scores.

Myth:  At home dual language learning must follow a strict formula

Reality:  Consistency, not rigidity, is the key to raising bilingual children

There is no “right” or “wrong” path to bilingualism.  In some dual-parent households, each parent chooses to speak only his or her native language.  Other families prefer to exclusively practice a minority language at home to offset their children’s exposure to a majority language when at school or in public.  No matter what you choose, the most important thing is to commit to an approach and be consistent.

Myth:  Raising a bilingual child must begin at birth

Reality:  It is never too late to introduce a second or third language into your home

Many parents mistakenly give up on bilingual child rearing after a certain point because they fear it is too late.  While research shows that young children absorb languages most quickly, multilingualism has no expiration date.  Even retirees can learn and master a second or third tongue with regular practice and exposure.  Studies suggest that, regardless of age, a language learner needs at least 30% daily exposure to become fluent.

Myth:  Bilingual parents must be perfect linguists

Reality:  Bilingualism is about effective communication, not perfection

Although some bilingual parents go to great lengths in order to avoid mistakes, every day errors are natural and harmless.  Fluency is defined as the ability to communicate smoothly and effortlessly.  Parents who focus on developing each of the four language disciplines (reading, writing, speaking, and listening) are far more likely to be successful in cultivating a bilingual household than those who painstakingly pursue perfection.

Myth:  Bilingual families are a rare breed

Reality:  Multilingual households are commonplace throughout the world

The United States Census Bureau estimates that nearly 20% of Americans speak more than one language at home.  In Europe, close to half the population self-identifies as bilingual.  In other parts of the world, multilingualism is often the rule, not the exception.  Contrary to the misconception that bilingualism is polarizing, raising your child in a multilingual household will pave the way for a lifetime of enriching relationships and experiences.

About the Author: R.K. Albers is a freelance writer and translator living in Mexico, where she serves as a volunteer English teacher, computer instructor, and web designer for several social and environmental justice non-profit organizations. In her spare time, she loves to sustain and improve her bilingualism by reading novels and watching movies in Spanish.

You Might Also Like:

The Benefits of Bilingualism

Myths and Realities: Best Practices for English Language Learners

Condemned Without a Trial: Bogus Arguments Against Bilingual Education



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  1. March 24, 2010 at 10:02 pm

    Excellent!

  2. March 25, 2010 at 4:23 am

    As someone that came from a bilingual family himself, I found this post spot on! I especially relate to the learning of multiple languages…I spoke 6 languages by the age of 12.

  3. March 25, 2010 at 5:04 am

    Love this post! My husband and I are bringing our kids trilingual – we’re a franco-english family living in Turkey, so we have not much choice. Our daughter speaks all three languages perfectly and our son who’s autistic has gone from being non-verbal to fluent in two of them and is now tackling the third. You wouldn’t believe the number of people who’ve told us we were going about language teaching the wrong way! All the myths you quote have been thrown at us at some time by people who didn’t have a clue what they were talking about. So thanks for this post!

  4. March 26, 2010 at 10:44 pm

    i spent the first three years of my life being exposed to three languages (german, russian and french). it clearly was good for my brain. when we lived in south america, my son was fluently bilingual. in canada, we spoke german and english. and then something weird happened. when i threw out my ex husband, out with him went the bilingualism. my older daughter, even though she was fluently bilingual until she was seven, now hardly remembers a word in german, and my younger daughter, who theoretically could have the benefit of german, spanish and japanese in addition to english, is growing up with english only. when i got rid of my ex husband, i somehow also got rid of the bilingualism. i wonder whether other people have experienced that, too?

    apart from that, i totally agree that the above are myths.

  5. multilingualmania
    March 28, 2010 at 10:17 pm

    Isabella, I had something similar happen. When I broke up with an ex, my Spanish disappeared for years! It’s interesting how with one person bilingualism can go poof!

    Sandrine, your kids are so lucky! People will always spread all sorts of myths and we have to trust in what we are doing! Practically the whole world is bilingual, so it won’t hurt anyone!

  1. March 30, 2010 at 9:59 pm

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