Clarinda Brandão, RP
Parenting Question Answered: Bilingual Homes
Q: I'm afraid my son won't be as smart as the other kids because we speak a different language at home than English and he watches TV in English and my friends speak English to him. Is this bad? Will it be too confusing?
A: This is actually a very common concern among bilingual households. Living in such a diverse city in Toronto, it is no surprise that we have many parents with this question.
A trick I share with parents is to keep it consistent. For example, either one parent communicates in the native language and the other in English. Or then keep your home in one language and other caregivers with the other language.
A great example is my own personal experience, my family is Portuguese and I am lucky to have my mother watch my daughter while I am at work - my mother (father and grandmother) speak with my daughter only in Portuguese. When my daughter is at home, my husband and I only speak in English. This allows her to note the difference in the languages without mixing them up. It's worked so far. My daughter will say to me "all gone" when she finishes her meal, to my mother she says "ja ta" which means the same. I didnt teach her that, she just learned to communicate with us.
The thing to also remember about learning two languages there will always be a dominant language (one they might use more often or surround themselves more with, which in our case will be English). The trouble with having English and Portuguese as the two languages is the grammar is very different, so my daughter will most likely use English grammar when speaking and building sentences in Portuguese.
But to answer your question, learning two languages does not make your child any less smarter than the other children. If anything a second language is a great life skill to have.
If kids are meant to learn to say 10 words by the time they're 15-18 months, then they will know 10 words - they might just have them spilt into different languages three and seven or five and five! There have been studies to prove that there is no cognitive delay.