Raising a Bilingual Child – Questions, Myths, and Truth

You’ve done your research, checked the options, and decided to raise your child to be bilingual. If language immersion is new to you, chances are you had more than a few questions about the process. You’ve probably been questioned or cautioned by well-meaning friends or family about your plans. After all, there are lots of viewpoints on raising bilingual kids and people love to share their opinions!

Awareness is certainly growing about the awesome benefits of bilingualism, but some people still think it’s safer/wiser to let a child master one language first before a second is introduced. Fortunately, science has proven that many common beliefs are actually misconceptions. And with 20 years of experience at Spanish Schoolhouse, we can confirm this!  Here are some of the most common myths we’ve heard over the years.

Bilingual myths - true or false

Bilingual Myth #1 – You’ll Confuse Your Child

It’s natural to assume that exposing a young child to two languages at the same time might overload them (especially if they don’t even speak one yet). Many people believe this will confuse them as they try to make sense of different vocabulary and language structures. And this confusion, they fear, could lead to all kinds of problems.  Not so fast!

It’s true that you might hear young language learners mix words from both languages, especially in the early stages. For Spanish/English learners this may sound like “Spanglish.”  The good news is, it’s not a sign of confusion. It’s a linguistic habit called code-mixing. When a child says, “Yo quiero un puppy” or “I want a perrito,” they’re not confused at all. You could even argue that this is the opposite of confusion!  They’re simply expressing their wish, and creatively drawing on any words in their repertoire to get it. This video does a good job explaining code-mixing and a related language phenomenon called code-switching.

Bilingual Myth #2:  It Causes Speech Delays

The idea that a bilingual learning environment will delay a child’s speech progress is not correct. Most children develop speech skills along the same pace and they reach vocabulary milestones at approximately the same time.  If it’s typical for a 2-year old to have a 200-300 word vocabulary, bilingual kids will have the same vocabulary size but it will be made up of words from both languages. So, yes, for a time, their English vocabulary range may be smaller than that of their peers, but their speaking progress (vocabulary in both languages) will remain on track. And of course, as they develop in both languages, they’ll eventually have double the vocabulary of a single-language peer!

On a similar note, it’s important to assure you that language learning does not cause speech disorders!  If a child has an underlying speech disorder, this will show up in both languages and is independent of the multiple language exposure.   

Bilingual Myth #3:  You Have to be Really Smart to Learn Two Languages

Not so!  If you believe this, then half the world must be geniuses!   Multilingualism is not unusual. Across the globe, approximately half the population is bilingual.  Even in the US, more than one in five people speak more than one language.  It’s not hard to find average, everyday kids speaking 2, 3, or even 4 languages. This ability to communicate so widely is certainly a gift, but kids don’t have to be “gifted” to master it!  

You don't have to be gifted to be bilingual.

Bilingual Myth #4:  We Didn’t Start at Birth, We’ve Missed the Bus!

Some people believe that unless a child is born into a multilingual household and immersed from Day One, learning languages any later is too late for them to ever become truly fluent. Brain science shows there is an early optimal window of learning (generally before the age of 10).  But even children who start learning a new language years after they were introduced to their first language can still master it with near-native fluency!  

bilingual child and teacher

Bilingual Myth #5:  Bilinguals Struggle Academically

The opposite is actually true. Research shows that bilingual children have cognitive advantages over single-language students.  They are more adept at problem-solving, have better cognitive flexibility, and tend to outscore monolingual students in standardized testing.  Take a look at the Language Learning FAQs on the Spanish Schoolhouse website for more info and research sources.

The Bottom Line… Is Language Immersion Really Worth It? 

Chances are you’re making sacrifices to give your child the gift of bilingualism. It takes time, effort, dedication, and often a financial commitment. However, the doors that will be open to them in the future (career opportunities, cultural understanding, and social interaction) make the answer to this question a resounding YES!  

If you’re interested in Spanish Immersion but still have questions and are on the fence, please come visit one of our Spanish Schoolhouse locations for a tour. Our students will dispel the common bilingual myths and show you how well the process works! 

graduate of bilingual kindergarten

So, what do you think?