of Historic Roswell
200 Pine Grove Rd., Roswell, GA 30075 • (770) 642-1900

One Language or Two

Posted on 11-03-2014

We hear from many parents who either speak more than one language in the home, or who want their child to learn a second language. The questions they ask most often are when the best time to start a second language, and won't my child be confused by trying to learn two languages at the same time?

There is some experimental evidence that a child who is exposed to the influence of two languages before she arrives at a fair degree of understanding and proficiency in one language is sometimes delayed in language development. This delay is not permanent but may be observed particularly when the child starts to talk around the second year. These are differences in bilingualism based on the time and circumstances under which two languages are acquired.

Some children may regularly hear two different languages spoken at home, depending, perhaps, on the mood of the parent. This is known as compound bilingualism, when a child is exposed to both languages interchangeably. Obviously such children have to learn two different words for every object. As a result of their initial confusion, their development of each language may be delayed, especially in the early stages. Coordinate bilingualism means the child learns two languages but the experiences are quite distinct. The child's parents speak essentially one language at home while the second language is heard from peers and learned at school. The consequence is often deficiency in the use of the second language.

This does not mean, however, that children cannot learn two languages at the same time. Parents who wish their child to learn a second language, or bilingual parents who speak two languages in the home should consider a workable strategy to simplify the introduction of two languages in early childhood. One idea is to designate specific times or places where each language is to be spoken regularly. This avoids the confusion of switching from one language to another during a given time period. Learning a second language can continue and extend the rich cultural heritage from one's family as well as span the generations.

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