Jan 312013

While we are enjoying some extra snuggle time with the Monkeys, we are so pleased to be able to bring you a series of posts from some of our favorite bloggers.

Today’s post comes to you from Becky of Kid World Citizen. She is an original member of the Multicultural Kids Blogs group and someone that has inspired me from the beginning of my journey as a blogger.  Before I even started posting, I found myself constantly referring to her blog for ideas for globally inspired crafts to do with Monkey.  When I launched my blog, I made sure to include Kid World Citizen in my Raising World Citizens Resource page!  So it is a real pleasure for me to now count Becky among my blogging friends and get to share some of her expertise her with you today.


5 Myths of Bilingual Children that You Shouldn’t Believe

Myths of Bilingual Kids - Kid World Citizen on Alldonemonkey.comAs an English as a Second Language teacher and teacher trainer, and as a mom to 4 children we are raising to be bilingual, I am constantly confronted by beliefs about bilingual children- and many of these are untrue.

Parents raising bilingual children and teachers who have bilingual students in their classes should be aware of the research before making assumptions that could be detrimental to their language development. Here are 5 beliefs that have been repeatedly proven inaccurate in current research, and in the experience of many parents.

1. “It confuses kids to learn 2+ languages at once” or “Hearing 2 languages in childhood causes a language delay.”

I once had a speech therapist actually suggest that we stop using L1 (L1= first language, in our case English) at home until the kids learn the L2 (L2= second language, in our case Spanish). There is simply no scientific evidence that hearing 2+ languages leads to delays or disorders. In fact, there are countless studies that show that children who are raised to be bilingual actually preform better in advanced processing of verbal material, supporting Vykovsky’s notion that bilingual kids are cognitively advanced, and can separate sound and meaning at an earlier age than monolingual kids (Ianco-Worrall 1973; D’Angiulli 2001; Dartmouth 2004). In fact, bilingual kids have higher scores on WISC in 4 subtests- similarities, digit span, picture completion, and picture arrangement (Ben-Zeev 1977).

Conclusion: it does not confuse kids or cause delays to learn another language!

2. “Until they grasp English better, students should temporarily stop speaking their first language with friends and family.”

As an ESL teacher, the parents of my students would continually tell me that people advised them to stop speaking their home language with their kids “until they were fluent in English.” This is completely false and will be detrimental to the student on multiple levels: personally, socially intellectually, and educationally.

First, language is critical to our values, cultures, heritages, and positive self-concept. Telling parents to stop speaking their first language will be stripping the child of an important part of their identity. Second, parents who abruptly stop speaking their native language with their kids are breaking ties the children have with monolingual family members and friends within their community. Next, on an intellectual level, we see that when immigrants switch from their L1 to an all-English environment, the children have a long period of transition (while learning English) that they are missing huge chunks of academic content. Speaking with their parents in the L1 will stimulate kids and help them to continue to grow their vocabulary and develop more educational concepts, which will lead to higher academic achievement later.

Continually developing in both languages (without abandoning either) will result in bilingual language competence without loss of subject areas (Parke 2001; Chiappe 2002).

3. “When a child speak “Spanglish,” or mixes their first and second languages, it shows confusion between the 2 languages.”

This is completely false, and also very normal.  Many studies have looked at bilingual children and adults of all ages and levels and found that switching between the two languages requires a sophisticated, nonrandom, rule-governed, cognitive and linguistic manipulation of the two languages.  It actually is grammatical and does not indicate confusion.  This is used as a bridge between the two languages they are learning and should not be discouraged.  Most times bilingual children (even as young as 2 years old) will only use such code switching with people they know can understand both languages (Brice 2001).

4. “Certain cultures can learn languages easier than others.”

The idea that certain ethnicities can learn a language easier than others because of their genetics is is just silly. Children around the world learn whatever language they are exposed to. Period. You can take any child, and place them in any environment in the world, and they will learn that language. This is evidenced by the hundreds of thousands of expat and immigrant and adoptive families whose children are able to communicate after several months of arriving in their new language environment. Here is a video of my son after only ONE MONTH of coming home from Ethiopia (age 3). He spoke Sidamigna, and later a tiny bit of Amharic while in Ethiopia. At home he learned Spanish and English simultaneously.

5. “Kids are sponges- they just pick up the language without trying.”

Kids can’t just pick up a language; they need a strongly supportive and rich environment (De Houwer 2004). Yes, it is easier for children than for adults to learn a language because they are still learning their first language. Yes, their brains are still developing and thus they are more receptive to languages (and music!). Yes, kids have less of an affective filter- meaning they are not as embarrassed as we are and will not worry as much as we do about grammar and structure. But despite them being little sponges, we still need to work on providing a language-rich environment with lots of opportunities to listen and speak, read and write in the target language. With support and adequate exposure, your children will be successful language learners.

Kid World CitizenBecky is the mom of 4 bilingual, multicultural, active kids ages 4-7; she and her husband are doing their best to raise them as compassionate world citizens, and lifelong learners. She founded Kid World Citizen, where parents and teachers can find global activities to do at home that help enrich little minds. You can also find her on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest. In her free time loves to cook and travel and is a wannabe triathlete.

  9 Responses to “5 Myths of Bilingual Children that You Shouldn’t Believe: Post from Kid World Citizen”

  1. Thanks for hosting Leanne! What a sweet introduction:).

  2. Lovely post Becky. That video of your son is so sweet and his Spanish and English after just one month in in the States is incredible!

  3. What a great post! Funny enough my son’s 1st pediatrician told me that talking to my son in Spanish & English will cause language delay, and confusion! But that if I wanted I can speak to him in both languages. Go figure, a doctor told me that! {Sigh}

    Sadly enough he’s a 2nd generation of a family from India, and his parents never spoke to them in their language for fear that they would impair his ability to learn English. Wow!

    • Frances, that is so sad! Makes you wonder how many folks out there missed out on this beautiful opportunity because their parent were trying to do the right thing.

      • Actually, this is very common; I know many parents who teach their children English only because they believe that will help them do better in school. We are considered “unusual” for teaching our children Spanish first! I have seen children (both bilingual and monolingual) that are delayed in their speaking skills, but attribute that to their watching television more than interacting with people (this is my observation).

        As for code switching, my children learned around age 2 who spoke Spanish, who spoke English, and who spoke both. They learned to automatically switch languages when the need arose. When they speak Spanglish, it is often because they don’t know the name of something in the other language, or because they hear others mixing languages.

        Thanks for this wonderful post!

  4. This is a wonderful post. I’m going to share it with some friends I have who are hearing these type of comments all the time.

  5. What an informative post!

    I am currently trying to raise my daughter to be bilingual in Japanese and English, just as I am. I’ve received many comments about how I should let her learn Japanese first, but I know from personal experience that it’s possible to become fluent in both languages by being in an environment that uses both Japanese and English.

    And although I find myself using “Japanglish” often, it’s only with people who understand both languages, so I don’t really see the problem 🙂

    • Yes, it seems everyone has an opinion of the best way to teach a second language, but ultimately I think it comes down to what works best for your family. And certainly there is no reason to wait, kids are perfectly capable of handling learning more than one language from the very beginning.

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