Welcome to this week’s bilingualism myth. Now tell me truly, did you think this one was true?
Myth 2. Having more than one language affects the fluency of the primary language.
Reality: On the contrary, having an additional language actually helps develop a child’s primary language. Language skills (vocabulary, grammar understanding, phonetic decoding, style, nuance, etc. etc.) are transferable, meaning everything a child understands in one language they can understand in their other language. In this sense, the more languages a child can operate the more sophisticated and skilful they can be in their primary language. They also make logical jumps from one to the other to learn new vocabulary they otherwise wouldn’t have. For example, I was surprised (but not really) the other day to realise my five year-old had no need of an explanation when I read him the sentence “far in the distance over the verdant hills”, because he also speaks French and knows the words “vert” (green) and “verdâtre” (greenish). His brain automatically transferred that phonetic knowledge in French over to English, matched it with context and learnt a new low-frequency vocabulary item in English, all without being at all conscious of it. It is also worth remembering that a child’s dominant language is just that, dominant. So long as the child lives and goes to school in the community where language A is spoken, it doesn’t matter how much extra input the parents put in for language B, even if they BOTH speak their home language to their child all the time, all the books, games, songs, DVDs and overseas phone calls in the world will not change language A from being dominant. So you can rest assured, you literally have nothing to do for your child to learn English if you are living in Australia, which frees you up to put ALL your energy into giving them your family heritage language!
What about you? Did you believe this one too? What are some of the things you believe about children speaking multiple languages? And do you know if your ideas are right or not? Jot them down in the comments below and I’ll let you know!
Watch this space for Myth #3 next week: There are only so many languages one child can speak… (Say What?!)