The short answer is no. There are many myths about developmental problems when raising a child with more than one language. Parents should not be discouraged by well meaning family or friends offering unsolicited advice.
I fully intended to raise my daughter bilingual because English is my first language and Spanish is her father’s. I planned to speak to her in English and Spanish, and hoped that her dad would speak to her only in Spanish. It didn’t quite work out that way because he moved across the country when she was a year old. The good news is that the groundwork was laid, and the early introduction to two languages means that the synaptic connections have been established. She started learning baby sign language before she could speak, and picked it up really quickly. Some signs I taught her along with English words, others with Spanish ones. At two and a half, she has an impressive vocabulary and mastery of sentence structure in English, and knows that moon and luna both mean the big shiny thing in the sky at night. She can count in both languages but so far only sings in English. I have to get to work on that.
Experts say that infants can tell the difference between many languages shortly after birth. Modern studies have proven that bilingualism will not interfere with language acquisition nor will it cause speech delays. Parents of children who do have been diagnosed with speech delays shouldn’t be concerned about a second language because it won’t cause further delay.
Another concern is that children will be confused and mix up the two languages. While most kids will mix vocabulary, it is temporary. Often children have a larger vocabulary in one language, the one they hear and speak most so they will use words from this majority language when needed to fill gaps in the other language until they learn the words.
Better Late Than Never
Great news for parents who were afraid to let their children learn two languages because they were afraid it would hinder their development – it’s not too late! In fact, experts agree that while the optimal time is from birth to three years, it is never too late to introduce a second language. I entered the French Immersion program at age 10 in Canada and had no trouble becoming fluent in the language. My younger sister started in Kindergarten, and quickly became more fluent in French than in her native English. We both picked up Spanish easily as adults even though studies show that after puberty new languages are stored in a separate area of the brain. I would challenge that theory, because in my first few weeks of studying Spanish, half of what came out of my mouth was French.
If It’s Good Enough For Apple
I recently saw an interview with Gwyneth Paltrow who says that she only lets her children watch tv in French, and I think that’s a great idea! I’ve already started hunting down Spanish language editions of some of my daughter’s favorite shows.
Presented in cooperation with Glovico a lead language school designed to connect native speakers with students using the internet.