Many bilingual parents, when preparing the upcoming arrival of their first born consider the idea of initiating their child to they minority language (ml) at a later age, very often at around 3 years old. This idea stems from the very common myths about bilingualism that young children get confused and suffer speech delay from having to handle more than one language.
Here are 10 thoughts you might want to consider before deciding whether to wait or initiate the bilingual education straight from birth:
- Science has recently demonstrated that babies aged under 1 year of age have a capacity to pick up any phoneme, which they later loose passed that age once certain neuronal pathways close up. If you want to find out more about babies’ unique language capacities, I suggest you view this very interesting TEDx video on Creating Bilingual Minds.
- Bilingualism is not in itself a cause of speech delay, confusion or other speech pathology. – Please read this great post written by specialists on When to Take your Bilingual Child to a Speech Pathologistas it has an enlightening paragraph on the normal language acquisition of a bilingual child.
- Over half of the world population is bi- or multilingual, and these people are not confused or speech delayed for being so.
- Instore a habit as early as possible – Make the use of the minority language a habit well anchored in your home life, and as you grow your child will be less likely to question its use since they have only ever know this situation.
- Introducing the ml from birth is more natural in the sense that you take the habit. Changing your language habits at a later stage is a lot harder (there is nothing hard to break than a habit), both for adults and children. In some instances, the child might even resist the change. It will also require you to do some “teaching” of the ml which you do not have to do when you use the ml from birth as it is your sole communication mean.
- Children have no prejudice as to one language or another – so make the most of it because once they will be schooled in the Majority Language they will develop the usual bias towards this language.
- Starting at a later age, your child might resent the effort of learning the ml, which s/he might not feel if the language is learnt from birth
- Having been spoken the minority language from birth, your child might develop a stronger affective bond with the language – which might help in avoiding situations of language resistance.
- The ml family will be able to communicate with your child from the very beginning and bond more easily, rather than the language being a communication issue for the first few years of your child’s life.
- Introducing the ml at a later age is no guarantee that your child will not code-switch – code-switch is the scientific name for when a bilingual uses more than one language in one sentence. It is often mistaken as “confusion” by those unfamiliar with bilingualism. Code-switching is not a sign of confusion but simply the easier way out for bilinguals when they do not want to make the effort to look for a word in another language or to convey a thought (I tend to do it and so does one of my work colleagues, and we are no children!). Code-switching is a matter of comfort, not language confusion. 🙂
Any other thought to bear in mind? Please share them in the Comment section!