Learning languages at an early age has always been touted as one of the most effective ways to gain an edge in the 21st century. That’s why schools like Canadian International School (CIS) offer a bilingual education like the Chinese-English bilingual programme for children from junior kindergarten to grade 6.
Yet despite this, there are still misconceptions surrounding early bilingual education. Let’s take a look at a few common ones to set the record straight:
Myth: Exposing young children to more than one language causes delays in their speech or language development.
Fact: First things first, what is speech delay? Known as alalia, it refers to the delay in the development or use of mechanisms that produce speech or sounds. This is usually caused by congenital issues such as hearing loss, intellectual disability and autism. As such, a child with speech delay is typically unable to meet the language milestones for their age.
Bilingual children are often misunderstood to have speech delays because of the way they acquire a second language. Simultaneous acquisition takes place when a child learns two languages at the same time before they reach age 3. Sequential acquisition, on the other hand, takes place after the age of 3 when the child is already established in their first language.
As a result, bilingual children are perceived to know fewer words in one language than a monolingual child. But the actual fact is that their combined size of vocabulary from two languages is about the same size as a monolingual child’s. Another thing worth noting is that while a bilingual child may speak their first word later than a monolingual child, studies show that bilingual and monolingual children meet language developmental milestones around the same time.
Myth: Learning more than one language at an early age confuses children.
Fact: One often misunderstood behaviour in bilingual children stems from how they use words from two different languages in the same sentence. This is known as “code switching” and is actually considered a normal part of bilingual development. Some children do it because they are mimicking the adults around them. Others do it because they are working with a limited vocabulary. If they don’t know a certain word in one language, they will ‘borrow’ from their second language. Bilingual children will eventually learn to differentiate between two languages but a new study revealed that babies can already tell the difference between words in different languages by 20 months! Amazing, right?
Myth: Learning more than one language is suitable for gifted children only.
Fact: The human brain is hardwired to acquire languages from a young age. In fact, the child’s brain develops more and faster in the first 5 years of their life than any other time. Studies have also shown that infant baby brains are hardwired for languages and able to differentiate between their native language and a foreign one. More than half of the world’s population speaks more than one language, so learning different languages is definitely not a privilege reserved only for the gifted!
Myth: My child must be proficient in both languages to be a successful bilingual.
Fact: There are two types of bilinguals: balanced and dominant. Balanced bilinguals are people who have equal proficiency in both languages while the dominant bilingual is one who is more proficient in one language. Balanced bilinguals are rare because it requires equal exposure to two languages, which even in bilingual families is uncommon.
While having equal proficiency in two languages is advantageous, it doesn’t mean your child must be proficient in both languages to be a successful bilingual. The reason for this is simple. it’s more important to focus on the benefits that your child can reap from a bilingual education like better cognitive development, problem-solving skills and multitasking. In fact, look at bilingualism as a journey instead of a destination. The very fact that your child is able to understand more than one language is already a success in itself!
Now that we have set the record straight on common misconceptions about bilingualism, it’s time to check out international schools in Singapore that have a robust bilingual programme. CIS, for instance, offers two bilingual programmes to forward-looking parents who want the best for their children: the Chinese-English bilingual programme and French-English bilingual programme.
Both programmes are fully aligned with the high quality International Baccalaureate educational framework, strong STEAM and arts programmes so you should definitely have a chat with CIS representatives to find out more!