Common Myths About Bilinguals Debunked

There are a lot of common misconceptions out there about people that speak more than one language. Like with anything, we love to stereotype and try to fit everyone into the same mould. Maybe you’ve had a few bilingual myths applied to you, or you’ve used them with people you know who speak multiple languages. But which ones are true and which ones are pure fiction? Read on to find out!

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Bilinguals acquire their languages during childhood.

One of the most common misconceptions about multilinguals is that all of them acquire their language knowledge during infancy or childhood. While learning a language as a child can indeed make it easier and you’re more likely be able to speak it without an obvious accent, reaching adulthood does not in any way indicate that the time to achieve bilingual status has passed you by! In fact, you can become a bilingual or multilingual at any point in your life if you have the discipline and desire to do so. There is no age limit for conquering a new language and no limit to the fluency you can attain when you set your mind to it.

Bilinguals are rare.

We love to look at people who speak multiple languages as these rare unicorns set apart from the rest of us and destined for linguistic greatness. In reality, bilinguals are actually a lot more common than you might think. Our world is becoming increasingly globalised, which means that people now move around more frequently and with much more ease. While there are some ‘global’ languages like English, this also means that more of us are stepping out of our comfort zones and picking up new tongues as part of the assimilation process. Think about it: you can travel almost anywhere in the world and find people who speak English as a second language. This alone should give you an idea of the scope of bilingualism around the globe.

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Bilinguals have a knack for languages.

One of the most common excuses people offer for not learning a second language is that they just don’t have the natural ability for it. The truth is, all of us have the capacity to learn a new language, and learn it well, if we’re motivated enough. If you’ve moved to a new country where you need to speak in the local language in order to survive, you’ll find yourself learning it quite quickly! The need to interact with others, whether for work or school, will supersede what you perceive as your talent for language learning. Where there’s a will there’s a way, right?

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 Bilinguals are not the norm in English-speaking countries.

Western nations where English is predominantly spoken have developed a bad reputation in recent years for their lack of bilingualism. In fact, those whose native language is English tend to be regarded as the worst at picking up another language. The truth is, there are several countries around the world where millions of people speak only one language, the United States and Japan just being a few of them, and it’s not because the citizens of these nations are bad at learning other languages or against the idea of becoming bilingual. In reality, these nations don’t have a glaring need for it as most aspects of life are conducted in a single language. And, even if people who live in these countries do learn a second language in school, they rarely have the opportunity to practise it, which can result in the common misconception that certain nations are worse at language acquirement than others.

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Bilinguals can be interpreters and translators.

Since a lot of bilinguals seem to be able to switch back and forth between languages quite easily, we automatically assume that they are capable of working as translators and interpreters. All you need is a solid knowledge of more than one language and you’re set, right? Wrong. Professional interpreters and translators are what is known as ‘special bilinguals.’ The nature of their bilingualism outdoes that of a ‘normal bilingual’ in the sense that their knowledge of the language must be far more extensive—especially if they’re working in specific fields such as medicine. ‘Special bilinguals’ are also able to switch between languages much faster than your standard bilingual, which puts them in a category all their own.

What are some myths about bilinguals that you’ve heard? Debunk them for us in the comments section!

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