Thursday, August 11, 2011

Bilingualism: Myths and Facts

**Yoga the environment and blogging are definitely an evening-weekends thing for me. My 8-4 job, Paediatric Bilingual Francophone Consultant Speech-Language Pathologist takes up most of my thoughts and time. I love my job and am very happy to share this little bit of evidence based info for y'all. Email me if you'd like specific research supporting these statements, or a reference list.

NB: Each country has a different climate with regards to bilingualism and second language learning. In Canada French is highly valued and Canada has two official languages, English and French. However, research is showing that as a bottom line: humans are wired to learn more than one language. 

Bilingualism: Myths and Facts
MYTH: Learning two languages is more difficult than learning one.
FACT: Children are capable of learning two languages without particular cognitive difficulty. The brain does not add information, but processes it in a much more complex way and can easily handle two languages at once.

MYTH: Children who are learning two languages start talking later than those who only learn one.
FACT: Children who are learning two languages should begin talking at the same time as those who are learning only one: first words between 12-14 months, combining words ('juice daddy') between 18-21 months. If your child isn't combining words at 21 months it may be prudent to refer to a speech and language assessment.

MYTH: Mixing both languages (i.e. 'franglais') is a sign that the child has not mastered either language and should be corrected as soon as possible.
FACT: Mixing two languages (using English words in French sentences and vice versa) is natural and expected for bilingual speakers, child or adult. It is not considered a sign that the child is confused about their language development and should not be corrected.

MYTH: Acadian French isn't 'good' French and is harming the language development of my child.
FACT: Acadian French isn't 'wrong' but is simply an older version of standard French, many words and phrases originating in the 1600's and 1800's. Even grammatical differences (like 'j'allions' and 'j'avions') are older ways of conjugating verbs. Acadian French has grammatical and vocabulary rules just like all other languages and dialects and as a result is simply different.

MYTH: Learning two language is more (or too) difficult for children with a language delay.
FACT: As the brain does not process language by adding information, learning two languages isn't too difficult than learning one. Therefore learning two languages isn't too difficult for a child with a communication delay. In fact, being bilingual can help support communication skills of children who are struggling by providing them with resources from a whole other language.
MYTH: If we remove (or concentrate on) only one language this will be better for my child's communication development.
FACT: Bilingualism neither harms nor delays a child's language development. If the child has difficulty in one language, they will struggle in the other. Removing one language will not make learning the other language easier to learn for the child. Instead...
Removing one language could:
  1. Limit the child to only one language for communication, whereas before the child had access to two languages.
  2. Reduce the child's capacity and quality of communication with their family, community and friends.
  3. Lead to a reduction in self-esteem and family attachment (we use communication to get to know each other, language binds us. If the family is using both languages and the child is only allowed to use one, this restricts the child and the family's ability to adequately communicate and connect).
  4. Impact the child's self-identity with regards to their family (who may be bilingual while they are not), their community and their culture.
  5. Diminish education and job opportunities (depending on geography).
  6. Reduce the number and quality of language and vocabulary models.
Any questions? or Comments? feel free to comment or email me :) I have plenty of resources!
 article copyright of EcoYogini at


    1. As a by times teacher of French, thank you for clearing up some of the ridiculous (well, to me) misconceptions about bilingualism. My own kids often chuckle at my "franglais", but really when your mind is just moving too fast, sometimes it comes out in a mixture of both languages! And I love that you have stood up for Acadian French :) Nothing wrong with what is often seen as our Canadian French dialects--they are just different.

    2. I'm from Canada and I only know English. French wasn't taught in our school until Grade 6, which is a shame. They then started teaching it starting JK and kids caught on quick! Now it's back to Grade 6 and I wish they would chage their minds. My daughter is 6 & I would love for her to learn it properly.

    3. Very Interesting! I am a closet language lover. I secretly wish I studied languages so I just am loving your post.

    4. Love it!

      I teach a world language, and languages have always been a cinch for me. It only makes sense! :-)

      In fact I once worked at a bakery where the employees decided to only speaking Languages Other Than English! We used English limited times to compare and contrast Spanish and Vernacular (language of the Accra region in Ghana).

      It was probably one of the best times of my life! :-)

    5. Nicole (a different one)August 20, 2011 at 1:16 AM

      I love being bilingual (and I learned a third language at 4 1/2) and am so proud of my cousins on both sides of the family who were so jealous of my bother and me that they sent their children to immersion schools in other languages. Glad to hear the research is catching up.

    6. Hi, great post! I have a couple of questions you may be able to help me with. We're thinking of having children and we've got three languages that we would like them to speak - my Norwegian, my husband's Urdu, and our common English. Do you know what the research says about children juggling three languages from a young age? Does that complicate things, or is it generally not a problem? I always wished I grew up with two languages so I'd love to give my kids this opportunity to learn three!

      Also, I don't know whether this is really within your field, but what do you know about maintaining several languages for adults? I use three languages daily but would love to keep up a couple more that I've learned and that seem to be slipping away. Would love it if you know of any links or other resources on that, I'd love to read about it! And thanks so much for a fabulous blog!


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