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Myths and Facts About Raising Bilingual Children

By: Jessica Drake-Simmons, M.S. CCC-SLP

There are many misconceptions about raising bilingual children.  Many well-meaning professionals can perpetuate myths that scare parents away from speaking to their children in their native language.  However, research supports the many benefits of being bilingual.  Let’s disprove some of these perpetuated myths:

MYTH: Parents should primarily speak English to their children regardless of their native language.

01_Lucas_VasquezFACT: Parents should be supported to speak in the language they feel most comfortable.  Speaking their primary language will provide the most complex language models.  If a parent is learning English himself, he will not provide rich vocabulary and grammar models.  The child will be exposed to simpler linguistic models than if the parent spoke to the child in their stronger language.  Providing a more complex model in the stronger language is more beneficial to the child than reducing to just speaking English.

MYTH: Raising my child bilingual will cause a delay in language development.

FACT:  Children all over the world learn more than one language without developing speech or language problems. Bilingual children develop language skills just as other children do. If a child has a speech or language disorder it will show up in both languages.  However, these problems are not caused by learning two languages.

MYTH: Raising my child bilingual will cause him to suffer academically.

FACT:  Research indicates that being bilingual makes your brain healthier and more actively engaged.  It leads to better executive functioning skills, enables one to learn more languages easily and have more job opportunities in the future.

MYTH: My child will feel different than his classmates if he speaks another language.

FACT: Your family’s heritage and culture is a valuable part of who your child is.  Keeping him connected to your community and feeling secure in his identity will give him more self-confidence.

MYTH:  I shouldn’t expose my child to my family’s native language because he has a language disorder.

FACT:  It is a common misperception that when a child has a language disorder, its better to reduce to one language.   It may seem counterintuitive to continue to expose the child to two languages but the evidence does not indicate that bilingualism will impede a child’s English language learning growth.  If it is important to the family, they should feel supported in their decision to raise their child with two languages.

MYTH: I should only speak English to my child until he starts school so that he is ready academically.

FACT: The younger a child is, the easier it is for them to learn a language.  The most effective ways to raise bilingual children are:

Successive language learners: Speak to your child exclusively in your family’s native language. Developing a strong foundation in the first language will pave the way for developing the second language of English.

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Simultaneous language learners: Use two languages from the start.  Some families choose to have one parent speak their native language and the other parent speak English.  Some families choose to speak a given language on certain days of the week or certain times of the day.

If you are concerned about your child’s language or other development, take our free online developmental screening tool for children birth to age five. The Ages and Stages Questionnaire (ASQ) will showcase your child’s developmental milestones while uncovering any potential delays. Learn more at askeasterseals.org. 

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