Globally, about 50% of people are bilingual or multilingual (in some parts of Europe, that figure is closer to 100%). But in the US, only about 25% of Americans can converse in a second language. Bilingual programs in schools are generally increasing. However, there are some myths about bilingualism that have persisted. Here, we look at five of the most commonly encountered misconceptions about language learning: bilingualism myths busted!
Myth: Bilingualism Isn’t Important
There are a lot of compelling reasons why bilingualism is a valuable asset. Knowing other languages connects us to other cultures, and helps us become better global citizens. When kids maintain their home language, it connects these younger generations to their families’ history and culture. And once in the workforce, employers are increasingly searching for bilingual employees to help them compete in a global market.
Science has found that bilingual brains have a more robust executive control system. Researchers have also found evidence that being bilingual can have a protective effect against eventual brain deterioration and dementia.
Myth: Only Bilingual Parents Can Raise Bilingual Children
Some parents who aren’t bilingual choose to hire a bilingual caregiver who can interact with the kids solely in the second language. Also, foreign language immersion and dual language schools are becoming more popular across the country. However, if neither of these is an option for your family, there are still resources available to help your kids learn a new language, even when you aren’t fluent in it.
Bilingual children’s books allow families to read together with the text in English and a second language of your choice. Not only is reading together quality bonding time, but it’s also a chance for kids to link spoken words with visual images on the page. There are even audio pens that can read the text as you follow along. You can also make personalized recordings with special labels that animate any object with sound.
Libraries have increased their bilingual offerings in recent years in the form of bilingual books, audio tapes, DVDs, and more. Talk to your librarian to see what resources are available for your family.
If you search online, you can find online videos and music in other languages. Watching and listening to these together can be a fun way to gain exposure to a new language, and is also quality family bonding time.
Myth: Exposure to Multiple Languages Delays Language Development
Rather than causing developmental delays (as was once feared), researchers have found that babies from bilingual homes have greater cognitive abilities, specifically with what’s known as “attentional control.” Young bilingual children have been shown to have greater fundamental social and emotional skills that evolve from their attentiveness to social cues when multiple languages are spoken at home.
The brains of young children can more easily accept a new language as a part of their core developmental skill set. Early language learning is the best way to ensure proper grammar and pronunciation skills.
Myth: Bilingual Children Have Academic Difficulties
Bilingual students enjoy academic and social advantages during their school years. Students attending dual-language classes have been found to be happier, have better attendance, experience fewer behavioural problems, and have higher test scores. English language learners who go through bilingual or dual language programs in school are more likely to graduate, go to college, and have higher-paying careers than peers who lose their home language.
Myth: You Can Only Learn a Language Early in Life
While it’s true that it’s easier to learn a new language when we’re young (the so-called “critical period” begins to close after age 10), it’s never too late to learn a new language. The key to success is carving out time in your schedule to dedicate to language learning and staying consistent with your efforts in the long-term.
It can be helpful to have a specific goal that keeps you motivated. Do you imagine yourself conversing with the locals with ease on your upcoming vacation? Or will bilingualism help you get ahead in your career or perhaps increase your social circle?
For older kids, it’s best to let them start with an activity that catches their interest. It could be that they love traveling to far-off locations with the family. Or find a local foreign language club that incorporates a youth group, sport or other group activity. These can be a great motivation for continued learning in the teen years.
Have you come across any myths about bilingualism during your language learning journey? Comment and tell us about it below.