International Day of Multilingualism 27 March: How (un)informed are we about multilingual development?
Language mixing can happen during emergent bilinguals' language development – they are however not confused! Research shows that children can differentiate between their languages already in infancy. Mixing is a sign of resourcefulness:
"Acquiring more than one language is completely natural for children," says Family Language Coach Rita Rosenback, "but parents are sometimes incorrectly advised by their child's doctor, teacher, or even speech therapist to drop a language. Children can acquire multiple languages simultaneousloy - I've seen thousands of success stories in my professional community. However, children are not sponges, and parents should be aware of potential pitfalls, such as slipping into using the majority language. There must be enough input in a language for a child to learn it."
Parents' confidence and motivation to keep going should also not be underestimated. "Many parents think that their children will only 'qualify' as bilinguals if they master both languages to perfection,"
Linguists argue for a broader understanding of bilingualism: two languages are never acquired in the exact same circumstances, so it's natural that they develop at a different pace or on different levels. In his frequently cited definition, renowned professor in psycholinguistics François Grosjean avoids any fluency expectations and puts the communicative function first: a bilingual is someone who regularly uses two or more languages or dialects in their everyday life. Or as professor Bouko puts it: "Bilingualism comes in all shapes and sizes. Any progress parents make is of value to their child."
*)PEaCH project: EU-funded Erasmus+ collaboration between the University of Gent (Belgium), Multilingual Parenting Ab (UK/Finland)
'How to raise a bilingual child': research-based information about bilingual development, expert advice and ready-to-use activities for practising languages at home, available in English, French, German, Italian, and Romanian, with Spanish version to appear early April 2021.
Family Language Coach Rita Rosenback
Multilingual Parenting Ab