International School Community Blog

Common Myths and Misconceptions about Bilingual Children #1: Bilingual children start to speak later than monolinguals.

As teachers working in international schools, we are most likely teaching and working with bilingual children (or even more likely multilingual children).  Many international school educators also find themselves starting a family with potentially bilingual children.  We all know colleagues that have ended up finding a partner from the host country while living there, getting married to them, and then starting a family.  None of us are truly prepared to raise a multilingual family and for sure there are many questions and concerns that we have.

What is the best way then to teach and/or raise bilingual children?  What does the research say are the truths about growing up bilingual and how bilinguals acquire both languages?

On the Multilingual Living website, they have highlighted the 12 myths and misconceptions about bilingual children.

Myth #1: Bilingual children start to speak later than monolinguals.

Reality: There is no scientific evidence supporting this. Bilinguals and monolinguals share the same wide window for normal development.

It is true that EAL students go through a silent stage when starting to learn English as an additional language.  How long they go through that silent stage is dependent on many factors.  The student’s personality might come into play, the student’s cultural background might come into play, the role of the teacher and the role of the parent all indeed play a part in the development of when a child inevitably starts to speak.

It turns out though that when raising a bilingual child, it is mostly likely that they will have the same window for starting to speak as their monolingual counterparts. There is no silent period as such for when children are starting to speak their first words at home.

If you are a parent of a bilingual child, share what you know about raising your child in terms of their language development and when they started to speak.  Who speaks what language to the child at home?  Is there a dominant language at home?  What language did the child first start to speak?