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The Truth About Bilingualism

Updated: Jan 17, 2021

Won’t my child be confused if they learn two languages at once?


This is the number one question we get when parents tour our bilingual learning center, BabyFe. This is a genuine concern since the feeling of confusion and discomfort is how most Americans feel when encountering a language other than English. However, we have to keep 3 key things in mind when considering a bilingual education for our little one.

1. Being bilingual is the NORM

2. Anyone can become FLUENT in another language

3. The BENEFITS far outweigh the cons

1. Being bilingual is the norm

Nearly 60% of the world population knows more than one language. Many people around the world do not begin learning a second language until they enter grade school. The reason many Americans experience discomfort with other languages is because only 20% of Americans speak a second language, which I would suggest is largely because many Americans do not begin learning a second language until their teenage years.

2. Anyone can become fluent in another language

An Italian researcher classified bilinguals into three categories (D’Acierno, 1990). There is the Compound Bilingual, who learns the two languages at the same time and uses both languages in various settings, sometimes interchangeably. Many of BabyFe's students fall into the category of a Coordinate Bilingual, which is an individual who learns the two languages at the same time, but in separate environments. Most of our students come from English-dominant households and learn English from their families. When they enter our center between 6 weeks and 4 years of age, students are still acquiring their first language. Then, they spend the majority of the day immersed in Spanish language. The Sub-Coordinate bilingual learns the two languages at different times, typically learning the second language after 12 years of age, and uses the languages in separate environments. Regardless of how the second language is acquired, “USE IT OR LOSE IT” is the name of the game. To be fluent, you have to be consistent and persistent with the use of the second language.


3. The benefits far outweigh the cons

THE BENEFITS. Researchers have found many benefits to being bilingual. In my opinion, the cultural benefit carries the most weight. Being bilingual allows people to connect with other people who they might not have otherwise had the opportunity to network with or befriend. Being bilingual also has cognitive benefits. Bilingualism has been found to increase executive functioning such as multi-tasking and planning. Bilinguals have been found to have better reading comprehension, long-term memory, and applied logic skills. The earning potential of people who are bilingual is another reported benefit. According to salary.com, bilingual employees make 5% - 20% more per hour compared to the base rate and a small survey found that 31% of business executives are bilingual.

THE CON. A novice onlooker may mistakenly label a young bilingual child as confused because of their vocabulary usage. Researchers have found that bilingual children can sometimes do what is called code mixing, when a child mixes up words from both languages in one sentence, or generally struggle to recall vocabulary. However, in most children, this phenomenon disappears by age 5 and is a natural part of language development.



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