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Top 5 Myths About Bilingual Language Development

by Liliana Diaz August 03, 2019

Top 5 Myths About Bilingual Language Development

These are some of the top common myths that I have heard over the years while working with the bilingual population. Most of these myths I have heard from parents and/or professionals such as doctors or other SLPs who may not be necessarily informed about the best and current practices when working with linguistically diverse and bilingual populations. 

Myth #1 Exposing infants or toddlers to more than one language will cause delays. 

There is no research to support the idea that bilingualism causes language delays. It is important to understand that developmental milestones are the same across all languages, races and cultures. For example, most children will say their first word by the age of one and this standard can be held for bilingual children. When working with bilingual children, one must account for both languages. If you are concerned that your bilingual child might be have a language delay, take into account his/her vocabulary in both languages and count the total number of words he/she has in both languages. Once you obtain this information, it can comparable to that of a child speaking one language and can provide you with insight about the child’s vocabulary acquisition. 

 Myth #2 – Bilingualism causes language delays

Several research studies have determined that bilingualism does not cause language delays. Dr. Barbara T. Conboy, who is a SLP with specialty training in early language and bilingualism, has completed research in the area of language differentiation in bilingual infants. Findings suggest that children’s cognitive systems, as early as infancy, can handle more than one language without confusion.  Studies have also suggested that bilingual infants can also demonstrate phonetic categorization skills similar to monolingual infants, but have also suggested that bilingual infants demonstrate highly developed decoding because they are able to handle and distinguish between two separate language codes at birth. 

Myth #3 When children mix their languages it means that they are confused. 

Code-Mixing is the use of elements from two or more languages in the same utterance or conversation. Parents and educators should not reprimand children for code-mixing because code-mixing is pragmatically strategic and grammatically constrained, meaning that it does not occur randomly. Code-mixing is rule-governed and often people who code-mix do it in a way that respects the grammatical rules of both languages. Code-mixing is complex and can fill the gaps in a child’s proficiency in the target language. In some cultures, code-mixing may reflect the child’s cultural identity.

Myth #4 Speaking two languages to a child with a language disorder will make them worse 

Often parents of children who have autism, developmental delays or other disorders worry that speaking two languages might delay their child’s language development even more or altogether stop it. There is a growing body of research indicating that children with a wide range of communication disorders are capable of becoming bilingual. There have been several studies completed on children with Down Syndrome, articulation impairments and autism which have suggested that bilingual children’s language skills can be comparable to monolingual children with the same impairments. Hambly & Fombonne (2011) completed a study that compared the social language abilities of three groups of children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) from Quebec and Ontario. The researchers examined several language aspects such as social responsiveness, initiation of and response to pointing, attention to voice, vocabulary size, acquisition of first words, and phrases. Findings suggested that children with ASD who were simultaneous bilinguals did not experience additional language development delays. In addition, results also indicated that the timing of the bilingual exposure did not affect the child’s language abilities but more importantly, the findings suggested that children who have autism are capable of becoming bilingual. 

Myth #5 Bilingual children will have academic difficulties  Research shows that bilingual children can have academic advantages of being bilingual including superior problem-solving skills, multi-tasking skills as well as increased cognitive flexibility. In addition, maintaining a child’s home language or promoting bilingualism can have advantages such as increased home communication, biliteracy, and success in the future with job attainment. It is important to remember that eliminating a child’s home language can result in poor language models at home, difficulty with family cohesion/communication and prevent families from passing on their cultural values.



Liliana Diaz
Liliana Diaz

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