Myth of Bilingualism Deficit Hypothesis?

Parents are rightly concerned and want the best for their children. One of the concerns we get asked a lot is “Does teaching my child Chinese at this young age affect the development of their English proficiency?” Basically, we are asked about what researchers have coined as the Bilingualism Deficit hypothesis.

In a simple answer, “No” and here are some reasons why:

1.) Majority of studies on early language development in toddlers from bilingual homes concluded that simultaneous acquisition of 2 languages does not lead to delays in speech or language development. (We wouldn’t bore you with a list of references, but if you are interested, please contact us.)

2.) Majority of studies in older children (grade 1 through 9) support the idea that multilingual learning increases cognitive flexibility, divergent thinking, enhances literacy and supports cross-cultural understanding.

Academic studies aside, we prefer to look at the question this way… Would you ask the same question if you are sending your child to an English only daycare in China? Sending a child to English school in China is considered a privilege and highly desirable, if so, why is it different when you are sending your little one to Chinese school in America? Why is our perception that learning English is a gift while learning Chinese is harmful?

We want to present a full picture such that parents can make a good decision so here are some other studies to consider. If bilingualism is so great then where does this bilingualism deficit hypothesis come from? There are earlier studies of immigrant families that have shown speaking 2 languages led to lower language proficiency. However, in most cases this is because the child is sacrificing their native language (L1) for the new language (L2) or the educator is emphasizing L2 over L1. Nowadays, schools are much more aware and in fact promotes bilingualism. In our school, we are developing true bilingual students, not one language over the other. (More on why immersion is best to achieve bilingualism in a future blog post.) Also, in earlier studies that support the deficit hypothesis, prejudices against immigrants could have led to detrimental effects on a child’s self-esteem and learning abilities. As a report (Maschinot, 2008) stated, the “detrimental” effect about bilingualism seems to be society’s stigmatizing response to immigrant status rather than the actual act of speaking 2 languages. (Perhaps these prejudices have also made us think learning English is a gift while learning Chinese is harmful?)

Finally, globalization is a force that cannot be stopped, the world is only getting smaller. We no longer have the luxury of thinking in mono-language, mono-culture terms. If there are developmental issues with bilingualism, then it is our job as educators to come up with innovative ways to positively teach our kids multilingualism and multiculturalism. No doubt, learning English and mandarin Chinese at once is hard, it is more complex, it takes more time for your child to master and requires a lot more support from us parents and educators. But that is what we are here to do at iMandarin School. We are here to help prepare your child for a globalized world, and ensure that your loved ones receives the full benefits or bilingualism.

Hope this helps, and thanks for reading!

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