In the first of four posts, we’ll talk about early bilingualism, what it’s like, the benefits and more.
First and foremost, what is early bilingualism? Maybe it’s already obvious to you, but if not, we’ll go over that now.
There are so many definitions and refinements in this world that not knowing isn’t necessarily a bad thing, just as knowing isn’t necessarily a good thing. Early bilingualism is when two languages are learned at the same time, before the age of five. Both languages will then have an equal opportunity to converge with the other, as well as create a deeper understanding that later bilinguals may miss. This type of bilingualism is generally referred to as additive bilingualism, or a strong, balanced development of the two languages.
This type of early bilingualism also can refer to a child learning and understanding one language first and then before the age of five another language is learned. This, too, would be considered additive bilingualism.
Although there is strong evidence to support children learning two languages, especially in the earlier parts of a child’s life, there are still fears and misconceptions with learning a second language too early. Usually, these are shrouded by fears and myths propagated by attitudes long held with little evidence other than belief behind them.
Unfortunately, while there is more research on bilingualism at an older age, there’s little research on toddlers and infants, but there’s enough to lay waste on fears and myths. One of the biggest fears that keeps cropping up is about teaching a toddler or infant two languages at once or nearly so, is that the child will get confused. While there’s a possibility this could happen, just by learning a language a child can be confused with sentence structure or words. As long as the parent is willing, having a child work through the different structures, words and sentences will help better develop that child’s brain.
Besides, evidence suggests that even infants that learn two languages show no signs of confusion. The reason is that languages differ so much that two languages can be differentiated by sound, word and rhythm.
So what’s the problem with learning two languages as an infant? According to a 2010 study by Byers-Burns, & Werker, there’s nothing wrong with it at all. Even the most similar languages can be picked apart by infants, so learning multiple languages at an early age may actually be beneficial, not harmful or confusing.