Given its importance, bilingualism in Singapore has been well-received by parents over the years. However, with the vast amount of information online, parents may be apprehensive about the benefits surrounding bilingualism and whether they are disadvantaging their child by exposing them to two languages from an early age.
In this blog post, we demystify the common misconceptions regarding bilingualism, based on literature research. Do note that while this blog post focuses on English Mandarin bilingualism, it can be applicable to any other 2 languages!
Myth 1: Learning English and Mandarin causes speech delays in toddlers
You may have heard that being bilingual from a young age may result in a child experiencing speech delays. While speech delays may occur in young children, research shows bilingualism in itself does not cause speech delays. In general, babies will begin to say a few words, such as ‘mama’ close to when they turn 1. This milestone is the same as babies who are raised with a bilingual lifestyle.
Further, speech delay must also not be confused with mixing two languages, for the seemingly lower vocabulary uptake by bilingual children is usually explained by the fact that they are only developmentally ready to speak a certain number of words at each developmental stage. For instance, your child’s vocabulary at 18-23 months may only consist of roughly 50 words (do note that this number refers to words from both languages). As your child becomes older, they are likely to increase their vocabulary range, and be able to communicate more effectively!
However, if you do have concerns about speech delay, you can consider having an evaluation session with a speech pathologist, so that you can gain professional insight!
Myth 2: Learning English and Mandarin simultaneously can confuse my child
Some parents worry that introducing two languages at the same time to a child in their early childhood may confuse them - especially if their language proficiency is not strong. However, while bilingual children may mix up grammar rules of the two languages, or use words from multiple languages in the same sentence, this does not mean they are confused. These observations are simply a normal part of bilingual language development.
As your child develops a greater range of vocabulary in both languages overtime, they are likely to become more comfortable with speaking one language at a time, instead of mixing words from both languages.
Furthermore, studies have shown that there are cognitive benefits to children learning a second language from a young age (around age 2 to 7), where the brain retains information vividly. This is known as a critical period, where the toddler’s brain experiences a high degree of development.
Myth 3: As parents, we need to be proficient in both English and Mandarin so that our children will be fluent in these languages too
Many parents worry about how to teach their child Mandarin at home as they may not be proficient in the language. However, we are here to allay your concerns!
Picking up Mandarin from an early age can be done through a range of methods such as online language learning, reading and encouraging interaction with the language. Even if you are not proficient in Mandarin, guiding your child to the best of your ability is sufficient in allowing them to actively use Mandarin and develop an interest in the language. As explored in this blog post, the ability of children to pick up both languages is not premised on their parents being proficient in the language. Rather, parents play a crucial role in motivating our child to acquire language skills and motivating them to use both English and Mandarin in their everyday life. Share the enthusiasm of learning with your child!
Myth 4: Sending my child to enrichment classes is a guarantee to build their bilingual lifestyle
In Singapore, sending children to enrichment classes may appear to be the solution to improving their language skills. While there are merits to enrichment classes, it is also important to ensure that your child is actively using both the languages sufficiently. Research shows that a child’s exposure to the languages at home at an early age plays a significant role in building their vocabulary. This efficient language learning strategy is in contrast to passive learning where children only listen to the language, without sufficiently interacting with it.
As such, it is important to develop a holistic approach when weaving English and Mandarin into your child’s routine. For instance, instead of just showing your child a Youtube Video, you can prompt them with questions about what they have seen and gather their opinions. You can also ask your child to discuss these ideas in both English and Mandarin, so that they can begin to reap the benefits of bilingualism.
With your child in the driver’s seat, they will be truly engaged in learning and are likely to use the languages meaningfully in their lives, as opposed to having just some understanding of the language.
To conclude, there are many myths and misconceptions surrounding bilingual lifestyles, and it is important to ascertain the facts, so that we can provide the best learning opportunities for our children. Based on research, there is good reason to believe that we should introduce English and Mandarin to your child at an early age, and incorporate opportunities for them to use two languages!
Galatro, T. (2018). Bilingualism and Speech Delays: What's the Connection?Retrieved 7th January from https://tessais.org/bilingualism-and-speech-delays-whats-the-connection/
Horn, M. (2017). Teaching Kids a Second Language: Can It Cause a Speech Delay? Retrived 7th January from https://www.nationwidechildrens.org/family-resources-education/700childrens/2017/12/teaching-kids-a-second-language-can-it-cause-a-speech-delay
Lowry, L. (n.d.) Bilingualism in Young Children: Separating Fact from Fiction. Retrieved 7th January from http://www.hanen.org/helpful-info/articles/bilingualism-in-young-children--separating-fact-fr.aspx
Ramirez, N.F. (2016). Why the baby brain can learn two languages at the same time. Retrieved 7th January from https://theconversation.com/why-the-baby-brain-can-learn-two-languages-at-the-same-time-57470
Teng, A. (2019). Exposure at home key to kids picking up mother tongue Retrieved 7th January from https://nie.edu.sg/about-us/news-events/news/news-detail/exposure-at-home-key-to-kids-picking-up-mother-tongue