Until quite recently, many parents refrained from teaching their young children a second language for fear of confusing them. Moreover, parents who did want their children to learn another language held the common belief that it is better to do so later on in childhood and after the child has mastered their mother language. These beliefs are often supported by some educational professionals in Greece who support that raising a bilingual child can interfere with the child’s mother tongue. Although research has debunked this myth over the past few decades it is understandable that many parents are still unsure of what’s best for their children.
Lets try to address some common concerns based on evidence derived from research and common sense. I hope that by the end of this article most of your questions will be answered.
Around the world children speak more than one language, with research supporting various benefits in being bilingual or multilingual. Moreover, recent studies reassure us that the human brain is more than able to learn multiple languages fluently without an intellectual problem, just as the human brain has room to learn so many other things from playing instruments, learning math, martial arts… the list is endless.
Some of the parents’ concerns are based on the belief that speaking more than one language will inevitably delay a child’s linguistic development. Children in fact are able to learn two languages at the same pace as other children who are learning only one language. In reality the most common causes of a speech delay include physical issues, limited interaction with carers and overreliance on technology.
Another concern stems from the fact that bilingual children sometimes switch back and forth between languages sometimes even switching between languages mid-sentence. Mixing two languages together is a common and normal stage of a child’s language development that most often occurs between the ages of two and four years. After this developmental stage most children will differentiate between the two languages and have the ability to switch between their languages appropriately based on context. Speaking only one language at a time in the presence of the child, gives children a clear, whole, grammatically correct language model to aspire to and helps them navigate through this stage with ease.
Some families speak only one language in their homes, some speak two languages, and some speak multiple languages. Children raised in a bilingual or multilingual environment and children being exposed to different languages within the right environment and framework early on in life, show far more benefits that initially believed. It is a misconception that one language must be learned at the expense of fluency in another.