Advantages and disadvantages of multilingual parenting have often been discussed by people. People who are entirely in favor of multilingual education and by people who are critical of this. In this blog, I discuss the most important myths and benefits surrounding multilingual parenting.
Multilingualism means: being able to help oneself in more than one language in different situations. Another description is: Individuals are called multilingual if they can understand and produce more than one language. Or if they regularly use several languages (Van den Branden, 2010).
Multilingual upbringing can be described as the provision of more than one language to the child by parents and environment to make the child multilingual.
The first common myth is about multilingualism and language acquisition
“Bilingual or multilingual children develop a language delay.”
A language delay is never due to multilingualism. If multilingual children often hear all their languages, multilingualism is very good: Good for language development and success in school.
This myth probably arises because parents sometimes feel that their bilingual child is delayed compared to monolingual peers. Especially in the field of vocabulary and sentence composition.
Language deficiency can be described as if your child does not function well in terms of language. And, therefore, cannot function well in society (particularly at school) compared to peers.
Some possible causes of language delay may include:
- a child can be shy and reserved and therefore has little practice with language
- hearing problems
- no stimulating at home in terms of language
- if a child hardly hears or speaks his mother tongue
- a language development disorder
However, a language delay has nothing to do with the number of languages a child speaks.
Please also read if you’re interested in bilingual children being allowed to make mistakes, an article in Dutch.
Another myth is: Children get confused by multilingualism.
“Children get confused by hearing more than one language.”
Bilingual children do not get confused by learning two languages at the same time. In fact, regular exposure to two languages from birth is the ‘easiest’ path to bilingual success. Bilingual children can distinguish between the languages they already hear in childhood.
From the age of four or five, they become aware of their two languages and reflect on their language use. When their parents each speak a different language to them, they will soon tell the difference between the two languages. They can also answer in the language with which they are addressed.
The latest myth is that multilingual children should be equally fluent in all languages.
I want to debunk this myth. That is a wrong assumption, which also puts a lot of pressure on parents. Unnecessary! Multilingualism is an advantage in itself.
It is still an advantage whether your child is completely fluent in one language and is not in the other one. Your child is already bilingual or multilingual if they regularly use two or more languages.
In this blog, in Dutch, you can read more about parents’ experiences during the bilingual upbringing of their children.
Essential advantages of multilingual parenting
Multilingualism is a gift you give your children—a gift with many benefits.
Multilingual children can relate to others better and have better communication skills. The best way to understand a culture is to learn the language.
Multilingual children generally do better in school. Moreover, they have a better chance of finding a job later on. In our internationally oriented society, being able to speak several languages is a great advantage.
Multilingualism has certain cognitive benefits and improves brain performance. So you not only create new opportunities by learning a new language, it also makes your child smarter.
A child who speaks the family’s native language, as well as other languages, can maintain valuable ties with family and friends.
About the disadvantages of multilingualism
There are no disadvantages to the development of your child. Children do not get confused by multilingualism. And multilingual children are not worse in school either. It is even the other way around. If multilingual children hear all their languages a lot, they often have an advantage in school.
A possible disadvantage is that not many people know enough about multilingual parenting. Those people can then criticize your choice. You can read, for example, how to deal with this in chapter 5 of the PEaCH handbook ‘How to raise a bilingual child,’ available in several languages.
The translation of this guide into Dutch is complete in the process. I will, of course, keep you informed.
Read more about the advantages and disadvantages of multilingual parenting
Download the PEaCH manual ‘How to raise a bilingual child’ for free, available in multiple languages.