Simply put, speaking two languages to a baby does not and will not confuse them.
While it may seem like your baby is confused initially, speaking more than one language to a baby is actually the first step towards making them bilingual. Something that comes with a plethora of advantages for your child's mind and their ability to navigate the world. Let's dive into the specifics of this confusion, where it arises from, why it's not true, and the advantages of raising bilingual children.
The confusion that is most often talked about is when parents speak two different languages to their baby or toddler. This confusion manifests itself in later ages when they start to speak. This can be seen when a bilingual child mixes words from two languages in a single sentence and also knows fewer words compared to monolingual children.
Parents raising bilingual children can observe their child mixing two languages that they hear, likely a native language and the majority language. The languages that are spoken inside the home.
These effects are real and can be observed in bilingual children. But why they are caused, and what being bilingual means for your child's overall personal and language development provides more perspective into why this is normal and not a cause for concern.
Where does this myth arise from and why it's false?
Shortly after World War 2, there was a study performed on Polish children and they were tested on the languages spoken by them. The test group included polish toddlers and children till the age of 12. When they were tested on their ability to communicate in their two languages, there were remarks on lack of fluency and the fact that the children were confused. The researchers also claimed that teaching a child two or more languages is the sure shot way to cause confusion and subject them to mental disorders.
The study supporting this hypothesis from that time does not take into account that the test subjects were from a war-torn country, and had suffered a great deal by the time the war came to an end. The children's confusion which was attributed to their bilingualism was actually shock and PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). Although all the claims made by the study are inaccurate and there is no further proof of this, the myth of bilingualism being the cause of confusion still worries some parents.
We can understand how something like this can be daunting, especially when it comes to your little one. You only want the best for your child and we can relate to that. But that study has since been invalidated and any observations from it, don't hold water compared to modern-day studies.
Now that we have established where the myth comes from and why it isn't true, let's learn about some advantages of learning and speaking multiple languages.
The advantages of raising bilingual children
Raising bilingual children can be a rewarding experience for the parents and can reap a lot of great benefits for the child later down the line. Both as a child and as an adult. Bilingual babies are awesome, and here's why:
The obvious merit
Oh, how great it will be when your child would be able to fluently order food in a foreign country and interact like a native back in their home country. No issues at all, and that is the obvious benefit, helping your child adapt to the various environments they will run into, and preparing them for it! So whether it's ordering a croissant with the right pronunciation or talking to their extended family back home, being bilingual has a lot of obvious benefits.
The advantages of speaking a second language don't stop there which are often the primary reasons why someone would want to raise their child to be bilingual. In addition to the dominant language, if you can speak a second language, it also opens new professional horizons. Any child who learns two languages has a better chance of being fluent in both of those languages, leading to job prospects at home and abroad, maybe even making them suitable for roles centered around linguistics.
The cognitive advantages of being bilingual
Research has shown that bilingual children not only have an advantage over monolingual children only because they speak multiple languages but also because they have positive physical changes in their brains.
Bilinguals across multiple studies have faired better at cognition and tasks where their ability to organize objects or events is tested. This is because they have physically larger grey matter, which translates to a quicker understanding of words and their meanings. When you hear the word cat, your brain automatically knows what a cat is. Now think of a word like hemoglobin, while the physical image might be difficult to imagine, the relation of hemoglobin to blood, to being an oxygen carrier takes a tad bit longer. Shortly put, the ability to understand these meanings and recall them increases when a person is bilingual.
These advantages aren't limited to language development either. Like in the example of hemoglobin above, it takes the execution of thought to determine what it means. Similarly, the ability to execute a task from start to finish increases. Be it waking up and brushing your teeth to putting on a uniform and heading for the school bus. Your child is likely to have a better understanding of those tasks, and in turn, is more independent in them if they are bilingual. Fascinating, right?
A similar structural way of solving problems can be applied to math and science problems as well, due to which bilingual children have been shown to have a better chance of outperforming their monolingual peers.
Read The benefits of a bilingual brain
It has real health benefits
When we age, our brains deteriorate with age. This is common knowledge as many older people complain about being forgetful or disoriented. While being bilingual can't prevent this deterioration, it can slow it down. Bilingual individuals have been shown to have a stronger neural network, simply because they have more neurons in their brains. A neuron is a cell that allows messages to travel both to and within the brain. Although the cause of this is not completely known, it is likely owed to bilingual individuals switching from one language to the other language.
In addition to this, there is a hypothesis that suggests that bilinguals are less susceptible to developing Alzheimer's and other mental disorders as they grow older. Although, there isn't much information available on the subject due to a lack of studies in this field.
Can bilingualism lead to a speech delay or any other language disorders?
The studies on bilingualism and its effects on children having a speech delay or other language disorders are sparse. However, with the information we have today, it can be confidently said that bilingualism doesn't cause or exacerbate these conditions.
Speech delays and learning disorders are medical in nature and remain unaffected by a child learning a new language. If you see a sign of a learning disability in your child's speech or reading patterns, you should consult with a speech-language pathologist on how to approach bilingual development.
Hopefully, this article was able to help you understand why speaking two languages to your baby will not confuse them but will rather be advantageous across all stages of their lives. When you raise a child to be bilingual, you prepare them for the world. A bilingual child is far more competent than monolingual children, whether it's daily tasks or their long-term health and wellness.
Bilingualism is by no means a silver pill to fix everything, but rather an advantageous power-up for your child's abilities in this experience, we all call, life.