Raising bilingual children can be quite challenging. Some parents believe that if a child is exposed to two languages at the same time, they might get confused and not be able to make a difference between them. For parents raising bilingual children, language mixing is often seen as a negative consequence of learning two languages simultaneously. As a result, many families get caught up in the myths of bilingualism, and it sometimes leads to them dropping one of the two languages.
Mixing languages can be completely normal for bilingual kids though, and it is both inevitable and harmless. Ask any parent with children growing up in a bilingual environment. Most of them will confirm they have experienced it.
From a very young age, babies are incredibly sensitive to whom they are talking to and to the different ways people speak. For them, the bilingual situation is just a matter of another difference between people. A recent study by a team of international researchers found that by the moment they reach 20 months of age, bilingual infants are already able to process the complexities of two different languages with reasonable accuracy just by listening.
Bilingual children often mix their languages, to begin with, but this is just a part of the learning process and does not mean they are confused about their languages. Most children who are raised bilingual resort to mix as they acquire both languages. Additionally, one of the languages often has a bigger influence on the child than the other. Kids who have a smaller vocabulary in one of the two languages may use words from the majority language when trying to express themselves. According to experts, language mixing is temporary, and it eventually goes away as a child's vocabulary develops in both languages.
Even proficient bilinguals mix their languages - also known as code-switching. Sometimes people do it because they can’t think of a word they need in the language they're speaking or some people even mix on purpose because they like the word or phrase in the other language better. But parents should not just assume that their children’s natural language abilities will lead to well-developed language skills without a decent amount of effort.
What can you do when your child is mixing languages?
It is very important to realize that learning a language requires massive exposure to it. Parents are advised to talk as much as possible to their youngsters, to read to them and sing to them. Apart from that, you should initially accept that it is completely normal. There is nothing to be concerned about, and it is common for a child to mix languages until they have a full vocabulary in both. Once they learn the missing vocabulary, they won’t need to mix anymore. Initially, it might be frustrating, but it won’t last forever. It is usually just a phase, and soon enough they will be speaking both languages fluently. You should be encouraging and patient throughout the whole process. A negative attitude can result in your child losing their confidence to speak one or even both of their languages. Children need to feel confident when they speak.
Along the way, all the skills that children acquire while learning multiple languages are very valuable, and all effort is worth it. Besides the fact that they can fluently speak two languages, bilingual children have improved mental flexibility and creative thinking, more developed listening skills, deeper understanding and a greater awareness of their surroundings in general. So, while raising a bilingual child can be difficult at times, parents should not be discouraged. Your baby can make a difference between the two languages without any major difficulties. Remember that mixing the two languages is not a sign of confusion - it is a normal part of language acquisition for all bilingual kids.