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•5 misconceptions about bilingualism

Monday 03October 2016

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….).