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Eight Myths About Multilingual Kids


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“Bilingual maybe, but more than two languages doesn’t work.”

False

Considering how much babies have to learn in their first five years, another language doesn’t really add much to the load. As long as they get consistent interaction, they will have no trouble learning more than one language. Practical examples show that it’s usually only when more than four languages are taught simultaneously that it starts to be difficult to provide the child with enough exposure in all of the languages. However, it really depends upon the parents, not the intellectual capacity of the child. In some cases, getting enough exposure to two languages can be challenging enough. But there is no reason whatsoever to believe that learning more than one language is anything but a positive experience for your baby.

“No one else we know grew up knowing more than one language.”

False

Well, isn’t it about time, then? All jokes aside, family pressure is not to be underestimated. Be firm, patiently explain why it makes sense for you, and make your own choices for your child. Remember that whatever advice others give you, you are ultimately the one responsible. Reason and hard facts generally stand the test of time better than mere opinions about your child’s well-being.

“Your child will mix the languages together.”

False 

Yes, some mixing will occur, but it is both harmless and temporary. As the child increases her vocabulary in each language, this phenomenon automatically disappears, just as a monolingual child will automatically fix mistakes after correct usage is learned. For example, children who are only learning English often begin by saying, “Me want” rather than “I want.” Eventually, they learn what is correct. The same is true of multilingual children. 

“Oh, don’t worry. They’ll pick it up in no-time!”

False

People sometimes think any exposure is enough, even a minimal amount like a play group once a week, watching TV or buying dolls that talk a foreign language. “Children need to be exposed to a different language for at least 30 percent of their waking hours to become bilingual,” says Fred Genesee, a professor of psycholinguistics at McGill University in Montreal. “Less exposure may allow the child to comprehend but not speak a second language. Learning a second language is simple for children, relative to adults,” he says, “but it won’t happen overnight.”

Christina Bosemark is the  founder of the Multilingual Children’s Association. Learn more about language learning from the Multilingual Children's Association.

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