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Myths About Early Bilingualism

  • Myth: Some people claim that it is better to wait for a child to learn the basics of a language well, before making the child learn another language. This way, we think that the child will be able to "transfer" the knowledge learned to the new language.
    • Reality: Even though the child could be learning a second language well at an early age, by not exposing the child to that language we could be depriving the child of several years of optimal learning. 
  • Myth: Early bilingualism will delay the language development of a child.
    • Reality: This myth stems from research dating back to the 1920s and 1930s which was proved later to be wrong. If the child has language developmental delays or difficulties, those will be observed in both languages. Research indicates that the pace of language acquisition is relatively similar between monolingual and bilingual children. However, don’t forget that a bilingual child is learning two language systems at the same time, with two sets of sounds (e.g., the 36 sounds of French, or the 44 sounds of English), two sets of vocabulary and two grammatical systems. This requires a lot of analysis which may give the impression that the bilingual child is slower. If one language is more dominant than the other, this may simply just reflect a greater exposure to that language. 
  • Myth: Bilingualism is a rare phenomenon.
    • Reality: Bilingualism is a phenomenon existing all over the world, on all continents and in most countries of the world. In fact, only ten per cent of the world’s (approximately) 220 countries or states can be considered unilingual. For example, these relatively rare monolingual countries include Barbados, Cuba, Iceland and Liechtenstein. The country with the largest number of languages is the island of New Guinea (with 830 languages). Canada has 76 different languages, counting all the First Nations languages. In countries where two or more languages are spoken, it is very rare that these languages have the same population, social or legal status. Also, their geographical distribution is often different. (see La diversité des langues dans le monde, available in French only)