12 Common Myths and Misconceptions about Bilingual Children

Common Myths and Misconceptions about Bilingual Children #6: Some languages are more primitive than others and are therefore easier to learn.

September 1, 2012


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 #6: Some languages are more primitive than others and are therefore easier to learn. The reason that so many people can speak English is that English has less grammar than other languages.

Reality: There is no such thing as a primitive language or a language without “grammar.” All languages are infinitely complex and yet learn-able.

It is very easy to starting thinking that some languages are somehow less complex and therefore are easier to learn.  Is English really not that complex?  Why are so many people able to acquire it around the world?

I have heard many times throughout my career (by non-native speakers of English) in the international school community and in life in general working with people from all parts of the world that learning English is very easy for them and has been very easy for them ever since they started learning it.  Many northern Europeans commonly say that they learned English by watching television programs in English.  Surely, English isn’t that complex then being that you can just acquire it through absorbing the language on a television show.  We will all just have to try that strategy and do that with another language and see what results we get.  Of course these people have had some English through their upbringing in school which helped them comprehend most of what was being said in these television programs, and I suppose then it was just enough to allow them to acquire other new words as they appeared here and there in the shows. The key really is to be able to comprehend just enough to be able to acquire more. (See Krashen’s i+1 theory)

But like all rules, there are exceptions.  Even in the same community and culture group, I have also heard numerous non-native speakers of English say that they are struggling to learn the complexity of the English language.  There are many people out there that have much difficulty acquiring a high proficiency in English.  This struggle is due to many factors of course, but to these people English is an infinitely complex and very-hard-to-learn language.

Why do we think some languages then are more complex yet others think just the opposite of those languages?  Well it could be that we all learn a language in slightly (or not so slightly) different ways and circumstances.  I can see people starting to think that a language is too complex for them when they are not providing themselves the right environment for successful second language acquisition. These successful environments could be one or more of the following: you spend the majority of your day speaking, listening, reading and/or writing in that language, your partner that you live with only speaks that language and not the language you speak as a mother tongue, you are taking language classes on a consistent basis that take up a sizable portion of your work week, you are studying the language in your own way every day, and so on.

Of course then, all languages are infinitely complex.  Sometimes it is just your perception of the language during a specific time frame that could make you think a certain language is too complex for you to easily acquire it. But, are there some languages that can take longer to learn than others?  According to this article:

There is some research stating that there are some languages can be learned faster than others.

So, what do you think about the topic of some languages being more primitive and therefore being easier to learn? Please share your comments. Are you living in a country right now that you think has more of a primitive language?