Misconceptions about bilingualism
We always think of bilingualism as being a rare occurrence, but in reality bilingualism is very widespread:over half of the world’s population speaks more than one language.
And just like anything else that we deem as being rare, there are quite a few existing myths about bilingualism and it is often very difficult to debunk them.Let’s look at five of the most recurring myths:
You are better off learning one language first and then the second one.
No.The developmental phases involved in learning the two languages will certainly imply some mixing, but this is to be interpreted as creative in nature, and not confusion.In later phases the child will know how to not mix the two languages when confronted with BOTH bilingual and monolingual situations.
The language mixing that we sometimes observe in bilingual people occurs when communicating with other bilingual people:it is a form of shared communication.
As an example, take French Canadians who integrate English language elements into their French, all while having perfectly integrated the differences that exist between the two languages…
Bilingualism causes language delays.
This myth refuses to go away.Even if we believed that this was the case for a long time, research has proven this myth wrong:it doesn’t take children any longer to learn to read or write when they are bilingual.
In the same vein, the proportion of children who are dyslexic is identical among bilingual and monolingual children.
All bilingual individuals learned both languages during childhood.
This is not at all true for some bilingual individuals.It is the mastery of two languages that is the hallmark of being bilingual, not the environment in which a person is raised.If certain people are bilingual because they were raised by parents who spoke two different languages or in a country where their native language was not spoken, there are many other bilingual individuals with a different story:they studied the language and perfected their skills, participated in numerous language immersion programs in a foreign country, attended a bilingual school, etc.
A person can even be perfectly bilingual and have an accent in one of the two languages.
Once you are bilingual you are always bilingual.
False.A language that is not used gets forgotten.Therefore, it is perfectly plausible for a person to be bilingual during part of their life, and then to no longer be bilingual.That same person can also become bilingual once again!This is another one of the reasons why it is so difficult to know the number of bilingual people in the world.
Bilinguals must master both languages perfectly.
In reality, no.Being bilingual means being able to express yourself comfortably in two different languages.
This does not necessarily mean that you are as equally comfortable in both languages, or in all domains (professional areas of expertise, or household terminology, etc.).This does not also mean you can write in both languages (such as bilingual individuals who can speak Mandarin, but not write it….).
How does bilingual education change thoughts ?
Bilingual education not only provides the ability to speak two languages, it is also a great opportunity to develop several skills in different cognitive areas. A bilingual nursery school teaches children how to change their way of thinking to be more efficient and increases their assimilation of information which enhances their problem solving skills.
Bilingual children have to switch between both linguistic systems to correctly express themselves according to the situation. It’s like having an extra person in your mind in charge to control and filter any information going from the brain to the different way of expression : vocabulary, syntax, non speaking language, ...
The mental effort of choosing the correct word or grammatical form fitting the context is can result in the following positive outcomes:
- Fast and efficient data treatment : use the relevant information and inhibit the irrelevant one
- Heightens the ability to switch between different rules and use all of them correctly
- Development of specific memory skills: Makes it easier to learn a third language
The earlier the brain is trained for these types of permanent exercises between two different systems of thoughts the better the results will be. A young learner in abilingual primary school is far more capable of dealing with two different perceptions of the world than a teenager or a young adult. The reason why is simple : older brains have already been conditioned to process only one linguistic system.
When a child is able to control two different languages well, he/she acquires more skills in problem solving and great mental flexibility. These two areas are directly linked with social behaviour and learning how to control them early is a great help in the spheres of everyday decision-making and trouble-shooting the day to day problems which every student encounters.
Will English still be the dominant language in 2050?
Remember that time when your friend signed up for Esperanto lessons, arguing that it was poised to replace English within 10 years? Well clearly he should have turned to sushi making or 3d printing classes instead... Now he’s learning Chinese. Same mistake? Most probably. Here are 5 reasons that lead scientists to be confident that English is here to stay.
English is everywhere
Technology, culture, print, the media... The massive representation of English in all these areas combined to the exponential growth of written and audiovisual material over the last century has created a strong momentum in favor of English. Think of a river flowing heavily:it’s much harder to divert its course than to move a still pond from one place to another. Well English is just that river.
English is the language of science
80 percent to 90 percent of papers in scientific journals are in English. This means discoveries are first shared in English and most of the knowledge is available in this language. Transferring this corpus to another single linguistic paradigm would just be unthinkable.
People are not ready for tones
Mandarin Chinese is a tone language, meaning many words are pronounced the same except for the tone which is responsible for the actual meaning. That’s one the reason that makes it so hard to learn that language for users whose languages are not tonal. The reverse, of course, is not true.
Chinese writing: hard to switch to
Mastering the Chinese characters is particularly difficult for anyone whose native language it isn’t, which makes the language unlikely to replace English as a second language for non-native speakers.
International communications will grow further
The shrinking of the world increases the volume of communication between people who speak different languages. Also Britain and the US are likely to become less powerful politically in the future, the need for a common referent language across the world will only become stronger. And the very nature of a common referent implies people turn to it when they need one, they don’t create a new one. As English is already the main international language, it’s most likely to remain so.