Does exposing young children to two languages interfere with their learning? In most cases, no. Sometimes it even helps
Mich Ferguson, a bilingual mother of two in Hamilton, began speaking French exclusively at home when her daughter Crea was born. Crea’s dad is anglophone, so some of her earliest phrases were a mélange of the two languages. Her first sentence was “Regardes, Maman, un doggie!”
This sort of mixing is normal in bilingual preschoolers, says Krista Byers-Heinlein, a Ph.D. candidate at the University of British Columbia, who does research in this area. “But it’s not out of confusion about which language is which,” she adds. “The issue is more that the preschooler doesn’t have full capacity in either language.” It was easier for Crea to come up with “doggie” than the French equivalent “chienchien,” which she probably didn’t know yet.
The idea of a tot learning two languages while also learning to think, talk and generally make sense of the world, might seem daunting to those of us in English-only communities or families. But young children manage it with relative ease. Here’s a look at how kids acquire two languages, how parents can keep the process smooth, and what not to worry about.