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Top 5 Myths About Bilingualism

Top 5 Myths About Bilingualism

By Olivier Monteil, Academic Dean, French Program & Director of French Affairs

Decades of brain research shows that there are both practical and cognitive benefits to being bilingual. For some, however, acquiring a second language at an early age can look like a confusing process. Let's address a few common myths about bilingualism.

  1. Learning more than one language at a time confuses children.
    Research shows that learning more than one language enhances cognitive abilities, such as executive function skills (focusing, multi-tasking, organization). Across the world, children grow up with two (or more!) languages without negative impact on their educational development.

  2. Not many people are bilingual.
    Did you know that about half of the world's population is bilingual? In the United States alone, there are over 65 million bilinguals. In the Bay Area, nearly 43% of the San Francisco Metro Area population age 5 and over speak another language at home.**

  3. A bilingual is someone who speaks two languages perfectly and can translate.
    There are varying levels of bilingualism. depending on what the speaker needs it for (conversational, activities, literacy, etc). Bilinguals also think in two languages, but may not necessarily translate like monolinguals do.

  4. Bilinguals don't mix languages; they only speak one at a time.
    When bilinguals mix aspects of the languages they speak it's called "code-switching," which can be a sign of metalinguistic understanding. It's also a very common behavior that allows bilinguals to communicate in a bilingual context, without having to use a 'close enough' translation. They use the word or phrase that best fits.

  5. A bilingual education is only for "smart" kids.
    Children of varying developmental stages and abilities are able to learn another language and have a dual-language education: a bilingual education is not reserved only for "gifted" students.

**United States Census Bureau: 2019 American Community Survey 5-Year Estimates Data Profile

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