Misconceptions such as this seem to persist despite there being evidence that learning two languages positively enhances the cognitive development of children. However, some well-intentioned people, doctors and speech therapists among them, may caution parents of the dangers of "confusing" their children by using more than one language.
These common misconceptions were based on the belief that learning two languages simultaneously would result in delays in the first language. After witnessing a child who is struggling to develop language skills in English, some educators or health practitioners may suggest only surrounding the child with more English to help make up for the delay.
However well-intentioned the advice is, language research has discovered that hearing two or more languages in childhood is not a cause of language disorder or language delay.3 Furthermore, studies have shown that children in immersion programs with pre-existing language delays in English progress in English at the same rate as children with language delays who are exposed to an English-only environment.4 In fact, some research has shown that the English of bilingual children tends to catch up to and then surpass the English of monolingual children.53 Abbott, Caccavale, & Stewart, 2007 | 4 Genesee, 2007 | 5 Collier & Thomas, 2007
Some people fear that if a child is learning two languages at the same time, he or she will confuse the two languages and will not learn either properly. It might seem to be the case while the child is learning the languages, but it is not true.
Since every language nest program varies in intensity and number of hours devoted to language, children's progress in the language will vary. However, when assessing the progress of your children in the language you must keep in mind that all language learners use "code-switching," which is the use of English and another language in one sentence. Often you will notice that young children who are learning another language go through stages of mixing the two together. This is a common phenomenon and is not a sign of confusion on their part.
Children, as well as adults, tend to speak using words that best communicate what they want to say. They do not always distinguish between two languages, but in fact, are selecting vocabulary that best expresses their social needs at the time. In order to help develop stronger speakers, language nest staff should work on helping them develop the words they want to communicate in the target language.
Research has shown that if English is accepted and the children get a positive response from using English, then they will continue using it. Language nest staff can assist their language development by not accepting, or feigning lack of comprehension, of their English so that the children have to use the language to communicate.
Not at all! In fact, learning another language may help your child academically. Learning a language is a complex process that involves problem-solving and making meaning. Children are required to pay greater attention to the clues and patterns of communication.
This in turn results in bilingual children having higher levels of cognitive flexibility than monolingual children.5 This higher level of processing is supported through research that has indicated increased mathematical skill development in bilingual children.6 Moreover, fluency in a First Nations language can be used to meet second-language requirements for post secondary programs.
Overall, recent research has repeatedly demonstrated that having two or more languages will actually help children's academic and social success throughout their lifetime.5 Cartwright, 2008 | 6 Abbott et al., 2007