The short answer is no - children absolutely do not get confused when they learn multiple languages. There is a misconception that teaching children more than one language will cause speech delays, and therefore, children should only master one language at a time. On the contrary, children are very sensitive to languages, and easily adapt to the languages spoken to them.
The Facts About Growing Up Bilingual
A 2019 article by the Toronto Star states that the 2016 census reported 17.9% of Canadians can communicate in both French and English. It continues on to say that children in Canada ages 5 to 17 who are bilingual went up from 16% to 19%. These statistics are primarily regarding kids bilingual in French and English, but Mandarin is up there too. Mandarin is the third most common language in Canada.
According to cubetoronto, 3.5% of the Canadian population is a native speaker of Mandarin or Cantonese. At Panda Mandarin, we hope to help increase how many people speak Mandarin, whether they are native speakers or not, via our courses. We know that speaking heritage languages helps preserve culture, allows children to communicate with family members who do not speak English or French, and has developmental benefits.
Multilingual Children Aren’t Confused
Children and adults can and do mix languages, which does not mean the child is confused; it is called “code-switching.” Code-switching is when you alternate or combine two or more languages. You will find that bilingual and multilingual speakers will use specific phrases or words in a language that better conveys what they are trying to say when they’re speaking to someone who speaks the same languages they do. This isn’t because they are confused, it is because some phrases or words don’t have a literal translation, and they use code-switching to better express themselves.
Benefits of Being a Multilingual Child
Instead of children being confused by exposure to more than one language, bilingual and multilingual children develop active and flexible brains. The US Department of Education lists the following as some of the benefits of speaking more than one language at a young age:
Easier time learning more languages.
Facilitates understanding mathematical concepts and solving word problems.
Help develop strong thinking skills.
The Canadian Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages lists these additional benefits multilingual children have:
Better social skills
As you can see, there is so much good that comes from teaching young children a second or third language along with English; their brains can more than handle it and actually thrive, because of the developmental benefits.
It is a myth that children become confused and cannot master more than one language at a time. Other myths include:
Bilingualism causes speech delays.
Equal proficiency in one or more languages is required to be considered bilingual.
Heritage languages should not be taught while children learn the country’s primary language.
Anyone Can Be Multilingual!
Whether your child is very young or is in their teens, they can learn a language and gain the ability to become multilingual. It will not set them back developmentally, nor will it hinder their progress in school. Languages enrich our lives and open the doors to new experiences and cultures. As the most famous Westerner in China, Dashan, can show, it’s never too late to start!