30 Myths about Bilingualism

When I am on the subject, here is one more article that is very interesting if you raise your child multilingual. The article can be found here.

There is a strong growth in the number of multilingual families worldwide because of the globalization that takes place both through technological development and human mobility.

Lack of scientific information about bilingualism leads to the establishment and proliferation of myths about bilingualism.
It is important to both reveal these myths and to inform schools, employers and the society in general that bilingualism is beneficial to people and society. We hope that the following list of the most common myths about bilingualism will help to disseminate and correct information about bilingualism.

1. Bilingualism is a rare phenomenon
– More than half the world’s population is multilingual. Bilingualism is found in all parts of the world, at all levels of society, in all age groups.

2. Bilingualism leads to cognitive and linguistic delays
Bilingual children are neither less nor more intelligent than monolinguals. On average they start to talk a bit later than monolinguals but still within parameters of normal variation.

3. Bilinguals will never be able to master either Language properly
– There is no evidence whatever for this claim. On the contrary, studies show that bilinguals learn additional foreign languages faster than monolinguals.

4. Bilingualism leads to linguistic confusion
– Language mixing (or code-switching) is not a sign of linguistic confusion.

5. Bilingualism is “genetic” and happens spontaneously when parents are native speakers of different languages
– Being native speakers of different languages is not sufficient – providing enough input in both languages is also necessary. Learning languages require opportunity and the motivation.

6. Bilingualism is always possible and easy during childhood, no matter when it starts
– An early start during the first 2-3 years of life is necessary to attain the same results as monolinguals, especially for accent and pronunciation, but also for many aspects of grammar. This does not mean that it is impossible to become bilingual after age 3.

7. Bilingualism is useful only if both languages are useful languages
– The non-linguistic advantages resulting from bilingualism are independent of the languages involved. Studies show that bilinguals are protected against the deterioration of cognitive abilities in old age.

8. Attitudes do not influence linguistic development
Children are very sensitive to people’s attitudes towards language. It is important for the child to realize that both languages can be used in all situations and are used by many people also outside the family.

9. Bilingual kids can only be raised by bilingual parents
– There are different methods and education programs allowing also monolingual parents raising bilingual children.

10. Bilingual kids are not Good at Math and Science
– The only evidences for this myth are from studies conducted with recent immigrant children of different socio-economical backgrounds compared to local children.

11. A child should learn one language properly first and then start learning the other
– There is no evidence supporting this myth. Children who learn two languages in a supportive environment learn them both well.

12. A child who learns two languages won’t feel at home in either of them
– Children who feel accepted by both their cultures will identify with both regardless of being bilinguals.

13. Bilinguals have to translate from their weaker to their stronger language
– Bilinguals think in either of their two languages. They do not think in one language only and immediately translate into the other language.

14. Children who grow up bilingual will make great translators when they grow up
– Being bilingual from childhood offers no advantage or a disadvantage over those who became bilingual as adults when it comes to translating.

15. Real bilinguals never mix their languages. Those who do are confused ‘semi-linguals’
– Semi-lingualism is very rare and may be resulted by a stressful environment when trying to learn two or more languages with very little input in any of them.

16. Bilinguals have split personalities
– The change in language cues a change in cultural expectations and behavior. However bilinguals are fully aware of that and are not splitting to another personality when it happens.

17. There is “only one way” to raise bilingual children
– Studies show that children learn both languages regardless of the pattern of exposure, as long as that pattern is reasonably consistent.

18. People really can’t learn a new language properly after a certain age
– Language learning is easier the younger you are when you start. However, people can learn valuable language skills at any age.

19. The home language will have a negative effect on the acquisition of the school language
– The home language is an important linguistic base for acquiring aspects of the other language. It also gives children a known language to communicate in while acquiring the second language.

20. Bilinguals express their emotions in their first language
– Emotions and bilingualism produce a very complicated but also very personal reality that has no set rules. Some bilinguals prefer to use one language, some the other, and some use both of them to express their feelings and emotions.

21. Mixing languages is a sign of laziness in bilinguals.
– Language code-switching and borrowing is a very common behavior in bilinguals speaking to other bilinguals. Many expressions and words are better said in the one or the other language.

22. Bilinguals are also bicultural.
– Even though many bilinguals are also bicultural, many others are monocultural (e.g. multilinguals in Switzerland) and vice versa, thus being monolingual and bicultural (e.g. the British who live in the USA).

23. Bilinguals have equal and perfect knowledge of their languages
– Bilinguals know their languages to the level that they need and use them. A very few bilinguals have equal and perfect fluency in both languages.

24. Real bilinguals have no accent in their different languages
– Having an accent or not in a language does not make one more or less bilingual. It depends on how early one has acquired his or her languages.

25. Parents should speak in the majority language to their children for improving children’s school achievements
–  When parents force themselves to speak the majority language at home even though they are not proficient in it, it may actually lead to delaying of  language development and hurting their children’s chances for academic success.

26. The more exposure one has to a language the more quickly one learns that language
– Simply being exposed to a language is no guarantee that one will gain in-depth knowledge of it. Language learning requires as we will be exposed to language input that we cannot understand.

27. Bilingual Education has been proven ineffective
– There are different models of bilingual education in different countries. Some are known to produce better results (eg. immersion programs). One should also take to account the different socio-economical backgrounds of the bilingual learners.

28. Special language education required by new immigrants is an economical burden for the society
– Multilingualism can boost the economy. According to EU rapports it is estimated that 11% of small and medium-sized businesses lose contracts due to a lack of language skills.

29. Older generations of immigrants learned without all the special language programs that immigrant children receive now
– The level of education needed to get a job and technology has changed. When immigrants came earlier, they were able to get industrial jobs with relatively little language skills and education.

30. Immigrants don’t want to learn the majority language
– Evidence from research show that immigrants are actually very motivated to learn the majority language.

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