To the Editor:
One section of the April 19, 2006, Chat Wrap-up on foreign-languages education dealt with the “language confusion” myth, which holds that bilingual parents should not teach their children their heritage language. I’d like to share a couple of anecdotes related to that issue:
My son’s first language was Thai. After our family arrived in the United States, he joined a preschool group at the local community college. The dedicated staff counseled my wife and me that our son might have a language-learning deficit. I acknowledged the possibility, but suggested that we watch and wait.
The next year, the same teachers wondered how to keep him quiet. One of them later taught him when he was a high school student attending the college, and found him to be a top student and in command of the language.
My sister is fluent in Chinese. After she adopted her daughter, she asked me if I thought the girl had language confusion. I asked the child to pick a book from a pile on the floor and bring it to me, and then I read it to her. I waited a few minutes before suggesting to my sister that she initiate the same activity, but instruct my niece in Chinese. The 3-year-old picked up a book (written in Chinese), took it to my sister, and they read it.
Language confusion was a possibility occasionally, I told my sister, but her daughter clearly had the capacity to sort things out. And that ability would develop rapidly. In the meantime, I reminded her, consider the “brain stretch” that is going on.
My son and niece are fortunate to be bilingual. They were no doubt aided in overcoming any language confusion by being raised in rich language environments.
A version of this article appeared in the May 10, 2006 edition of Education Week as Bilingual Parents and ‘Language Confusion’