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Some Monolingual Myths about Bilingualism

  • Bilingual children speak both languages equally well

Wrong. Definitely wrong. Most bilingual children develop their two languages differently, so that someone who grew up in e.g. a Spanish family in an English community might feel comfortable talking about family related matters, emotions and love in Spanish, while they would find it hard to discuss politics, educational matters or do maths in anything but English. The truth is that there are few if any balanced bilinguals in the world, and even within one family one child might speak the minority language better than his or her siblings.

  • Bilingual children always sound like natives

While many bilingual children do sound native-like, it is far more common that their accent is influenced by their majority language, especially if they grow up in a country where the minority language isn’t spoken outside of the family.

  • Bilinguals have to translate from their weaker to their stronger language.

No, we don’t, most of us can think in both of our languages, and believing that we would think in one language and only translate to the other when necessary is a rather strange assumption many monolinguals sadly do.

  • Real bilinguals never mix their languages. Those who do are confused ‘semi-linguals’

This is an often voiced concern by monolinguals with regards to bilingualism, but the truth is that most bilinguals to a certain degree mix their languages when they speak, while at the same time they are well aware of when to only use a specific language. Assuming that someone is semi-lingual because they choose to say “could you hand me boken där” is as wrong as assuming that a teenager cannot speak properly because he or she chooses to use slang.

  • Bilingualism is a charming exception, but monolingualism is of course the rule

Ha! Lo and behold the monolingual Westerner and his close-mindedness. While bilingualism is far less common in Western societies bilingualism is far more the rule than the exception, and even if no official survey has been carried out linguists estimate that over 50% of the world’s population are bilinguals or multilinguals.

  • Children who grow up bilingual will make great translators when they grow up

Oh God no, just as one can’t claim that all Americans can square dance, one can’t claim that all bilinguals turn out to be great translators.

  • Bilingual students aren’t as bright as their monolingual friends because they get confused by their two languages.

This belief stems from an old research carried out in Wales, where bilingual children from a working class background with no formal education were compared to children with a solid education from upper class families. Needless to say this research has since been disputed and proven wrong. In fact, recent research states that, when compared to monolingual children from an equal educational background, bilingual students do better on tests than children who only speak one language.


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