Written by Dr. Alessia Raineri

Since the first babbling of my eldest son, 10 years ago, I’ve been fascinated about acquiring more languages simultaneously from birth.

Very soon I decided to deepen my knowledge in multilingual acquisition and developmental language disorders. Research helped me to distinguish fact from fiction. I have heard many myths in a decade of motherhood of three trilingual children. I’ve learned that those myths do not have to discourage you in raising multilingual children: Research is very supportive of raising children with more than one language!

Now let’s unfold and dispel the myths that surround our society…


Myth 1: Bilinguals are two monolinguals in one

Fact. Bilinguals acquire or learn and use their languages for different purposes, in different domains of life, with different people. This is caused by the complementarity principle (Grosjean, 2016). This phenomenon has consequences, for example, in the vocabulary size and variety of each language. It may happen to you, if you are bilingual, that you can deal with a work conversation in your second language much better than in your mother tongue, just because you have been working for years using only your second language.

Bilingual proficiency can also vary widely. Some bilingual individuals may be balanced bilinguals – equally proficient in both languages – many others, are dominant in one language. Proficiency can also change over time depending on language use and exposure. Bilingualism is a rich and complex cognitive and linguistic phenomenon that goes beyond the notion of being ‘two monolinguals in one’ (Grosjean, 1989). Therefore, growing up bilingual is an exciting and wonderful journey!

Remember then:

Bilinguals are NOT two monolinguals in one – Bilingualism is a complex phenomenon


Myth 2: Bilingualism delays language development

Fact. Studies show that bilingual children go through the same acquisition milestones of their monolingual peers (De Houwer, 2009) and that being late talker – having a tiny vocabulary and difficulties to make two words sentences after the second birthday – has really nothing to do with the fact of hearing two languages from birth. My Ph. D. thesis suggests that even hearing 4 languages from birth have very little to do with it (Raineri, 2023).

Bilingual children may have a slight delay in each language’s vocabulary compared to the monolingual norm in their first years of life (Pearsons, Fernandez and Oller), but they generally catch up very soon their monolingual peers, in their dominant language. When checking out for possible language delays in bilingual children, a comprehensive outlook of all the languages should be considered. Research has shown that bilingualism can’t cause a worsening of some developmental language disorders (DLD: Garraffa, Sorace and Vender, 2020). Therefore, bilingualism is always an opportunity to take!

Remember then:

Bilingualism doesn’t delay language development – Bilingualism is always an opportunity to take!


Myth 3: Bilingual children are confused

Fact. Children growing up with multiple languages are not confused at all. If they mix language there is a reason behind it. For example, if a 22 months old boy says to his Italian father “voglio milk” (voglio meaning ‘I want’ in Italian), the reason why he uses the English noun ‘milk’ may be that: 1) He hasn’t acquired the translation equivalent of ‘milk’ in Italian yet; 2) The father may mix languages with him, therefore the child feels that he is allowed to mix the two languages too. Research has consistently shown that bilingual children are very sensitive to the interlocutor’s language(s) and language(s) proficiency/cies (Quay, 2008) and that parents discourse strategies are correlated with their children language output (Lanza, 2004)Bilingual children, far to be confused, can switch between languages depending on the context, demonstrating a high level of cognitive control.

Remember then:

Bilingual children are NOT confused – language mixing is a sophisticated communicative strategy


Myth 4: Bilingual children have problems in school

 “The person who knows only one language does not truly know that language” Goethe 

Fact. Research suggests that bilingual children may develop more flexibility in their thinking as a result of processing information through two different languages. When children continue to develop their abilities in two or more languages throughout their primary school years, they gain a deeper understanding of language and how to use it effectively (Cummins, 2001).

Ideally, literacy in the home language(s) should be also supported in the school. Spending instructional time through a minority language in the school does not hurt children’s academic development in the majority school language. Research shows that mother tongue promotion in the school helps develop not only the mother tongue but also children’s abilities in the majority school language. But if your school doesn’t offer that, do not worry: you can always promote literacy development in the minority language at home!

Monolingual-minded teachers may not take in consideration the home languages of the pupils and they may judge accents or lack of vocabulary like a negative sign. Developing language sensitive teaching is important for being inclusive with multilingual pupils. Fortunately, some teacher programs start to include this subject in their studies (see Listiac project).

Remember then:

Bilingual children Do NOT have problems in the school – Home language development supports school language development


Myth 5: It’s impossible to learn a second language later in life

Fact. While it’s true that language acquisition tends to be easier for children, adults can absolutely learn a second language successfully. The process might take more effort and time, but with motivation and effective language learning strategies, adults can become proficient and even fluent in a second language. Do not forget that benefits of bilingualism are many both in childhood and in adulthood. Then, it is never too late to learn a new language!

Remember then:

It’s ALWAYS possible to learn a second language – if you are hesitating in when it’s the right time to learn a second language, start NOW!


Myth 6: Bilinguals have no accent

Fact. Late bilinguals often retain an accent from their first language, even when they are highly proficient in their second language. This is a natural part of language development and it does not diminish their bilingual abilities.

On the other side, being in contact with two or more languages since the first years of life does mean that you may not develop an accent in your languages. The brain plasticity of the first years give a high advantage to small children in acquiring sounds and vocabulary with ease (Garraffa, Sorace and Vender, 2020). The sooner the better in introducing a new language!

Remember then:

Bilinguals CAN have an accent – Bilingual abilities are manifold


Final considerations: Embrace bilingualism!

In conclusion, bilingualism is a valuable and multifaced skill that offers numerous cognitive, linguistic and cultural benefits. Bilingualism myths have deep roots and only in the last few decades they have been dispelled by the research on bilingualism. Debunking these myths can help promote a more accurate and positive understanding of bilingualism and its role in society. An increasing number of dedicated professionals in the field of bilingual development and education – like the ones present in this brilliant TA-DA Production’s Blogathon – is aiming to make disappear once for all those mythsto empower bilingualism and to embrace it as a wonderful opportunity!

As a mother of three multilingual children, I joyfully experience it every day. Having a multilingual family is like to be on a never-ending travel, while opening your mind and soul constantly.


Do NOT be afraid of bilingualism – Embrace bilingualism and treasure it!

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