Can a young child learn two languages at the same time?
Some parents, caregivers and even teachers might think that exposing a child to several languages at a young age can confuse them and delay their learning of another language. Dr. Fred Genesee, Professor of Psychology at McGill University, has compiled data from various research projects on learning two languages from an early age with the aim of proving that this is not the case, and to draw conclusions which can help reassure parents who have bilingual or multilingual families.
Advantages to bilingualism or multilingualism
- Greater ability to communicate with all members of the family, including grandparents, or even family members who live in the family’s native country.
- The chance to develop an identity which connects to their cultural heritage.
Learning two languages at the same time
Two languages = confusion?
There is no proof that young children who learn two languages at the same time get mixed up between the two. Children will adapt according to the language spoken by the person with whom they’re interacting and will know how to make the distinction between the two languages. They can mix up the two languages in the same sentence or the same conversation just like adults, but research shows that normally, they use the languages separately. When they resort to using a word in the other language, it’s because they don’t know the word in the language they’re speaking at that moment. Using two languages doesn’t mean they’re confused and they don’t know which language to use, it just means they’re drawing on all the language resources they possess. Another study conducted by Dr. Genesee shows that even if children mix up their words, their grammatical structure follows the norms.
Bilingualism is, without a doubt, an advantage both personally and professionally for an individual. If your child is lucky enough to be born into a bilingual or even trilingual family don’t worry about the myths surrounding learning more than one language at the same time. Your child will come out a winner no matter what!