Early bilingualism: advantages and disadvantages

When parents come from different countries or cultures, the child is immersed in family bilingualism and often acquires two languages simultaneously before the age of 3. If, in addition, the child enters a school where another language is taught and others are on the curriculum, he or she becomes multilingual at an early age. But is this an advantage or a handicap?

The advantages of bilingualism are obvious. In a world where more and more professions require the knowledge of at least two foreign languages, the fact that one enters school already bilingual or multilingual is an asset, an undeniable intellectual wealth.

The capacity of children to learn other languages is almost unlimited, whether they are gifted or not. Learning one, two, three or even four languages at an early age does not lead to brain overload and does not delay their development, contrary to what one might fear. On the contrary, several studies have shown that bilingualism develops intellectual flexibility and reasoning. This does not mean that there is no imbalance. If the acquisition of the first two languages is not strong enough, learn a third, or even a fourth can cause loss of knowledge.

Within the family, specialists advise compartmentalizing learning. It is better for the father to speak to his child in his mother tongue and for the mother to do the same, but they should avoid mixing the two languages in front of the child, for example switching from English to French while talking to each other. This will make acquisition easier and they will not confuse the different languages.

Children who are not born into a bilingual environment can obviously acquire knowledge of other languages through school education or even already in kindergarten. But no matter how hard parents try to bring their offspring into contact with others, one should never lose sight of the fact that a language that is not used is lost as easily as it was memorized.

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