Bilingualism Myth Buster – Children are Sponges

If you bring your children up speaking more than one language, what is the most common reaction that you hear from other people? For me, it has always been, “Oh, how marvellous! Children are little sponges, aren’t they? They pick up languages so easily”. As a mother of an 11 year old and a 13 year old, it now takes all my strength to resist saying, “No. Children aren’t sponges, and bilingualism isn’t that easy”. Since I’m much too polite to say it, I’ll write about it, in the hope that it makes some people stop and think before enraging someone like me. Yes, it is obviously easier for kids to learn a language when they are kids, and there are many other advantages to being bilingual. Still, the ‘children are sponges’ analogy always feels so dismissive, to both children and their parents, of the effort that goes into becoming truly bilingual. Our Story When we had our first child, we were living in Germany. I’m Scottish, so spoke to my daughter in English, although I was so immersed in the local language, that I actually found this difficult at first. After 10 years in Germany, I rarely spoke English, other than on the phone to my parents. When my daughter started Kindergarten, at the age of 3 years, she understood German but didn’t speak much. I can remember her teacher telling me that they’d taken her into the stationery cupboard, and let her point out what she wanted, because they hadn’t known the word ‘glue’, and she didn’t know ‘Kleber’. By the time her little brother went … Continue reading Bilingualism Myth Buster – Children are Sponges