Mixing languages is usually a sign of high competence in both languages. Bilinguals often do it even within a sentence (known as code-switching). This does not mean they cannot speak in just one language, or that they are not sufficiently fluent in both languages. It simply means that these speakers use their whole potential in communication, i.e. using the expression that best fits what they want to say. Some studies have found that speakers who are very fluent in both languages are the ones that mix the most.
No, children do not get confused about languages. Bilingual children speak at least two languages. Instead of confusing the two, they have to learn what language(s) they can use with each person. They start learning fairly early on (before age 2) but this can be influenced by the language situation at home. If some children go through a period in which they mix languages, this is nothing to be worried about. Eventually all bilinguals end up with at least one native language, possibly two. If parents and/or siblings use both languages in communicating with the child then the child will at first naturally assume that everybody is bilingual and that it can mix both languages when speaking with other people. It might take a little bit for the child to figure out that the daycare teacher only speaks English. But eventually it will happen (rather sooner than later). Keep in mind that no healthy grown-up bilingual mixes up languages when speaking to monolinguals.
A heritage language is a language learned the same way as a native language, but it is thought of as being learned in an incomplete manner. There are different degrees to which someone can be a heritage speaker. This can range from having only passive knowledge (understanding) to very advanced fluency (passive and active).
For example, a person can grow up in a house where his or her parents speak only Ukrainian, but outside the home everybody else speaks English. If the only Ukrainian input this person gets is from his or her parents then, this speaker will most likely become a heritage speaker of Ukrainian.
A bilingual speaks two languages. To what extent the speaker knows both languages may vary. One of the languages is going to be a native language. The proficiency level of the second language can range from knowing very little all the way up to having a second native language. Although technically all these speakers would be bilingual, very often the term “bilingual” is used for speakers that have a native or native-like level of language proficiency in both languages. The term multilingual is used to refer to people who speak two or more languages, being generally reserved for speakers of more than three languages.
The British Psychology Society points us to yet another study about the positives of being bilingual. Read here to find out more about research done at the Univeristy of Granada and the University of York in Canada, which presented on the benefits of raising children to be bilingual, specifically how it can boost one’s memory.
Does raising your kids to speak two different languages confuse them? Read on at 2 Langauge 2 Worlds to find out in this study done on 606 five-year old children. The impetus of the study is to look at code-mixing in children with and without language impairment.
How do you become a master of multiple languages? That is the question central to Michael Erard’s new book, “Babel No More: The Search for the World’s Most Extraordinary Langauge Learners.” The New York Times describes it as “part travelogue, part science lesson, part intellectual investigation” and “an entertaining, informative survey of some of the most fascinating polyglots of our time.”
Here’s more information from the book’s website:
If you’ve ever tried to learn another language, you know how much time, energy, and brain power is required. Imagine a person who can pick up languages very easily. Someone who can navigate our world’s multilingual hullaballoo. Who can leap language barriers with a single bound. Who can learn without effort and remember indelibly. Such people aren’t parrots. They’re not computers. They’re language superlearners.
Michael Erard searched for these people, and when he found them — in history books and living among us — he tried to make sense of their linguistic feats and their mental powers. His book answers the age-old question, What are the upper limits of the human ability to learn, remember, and use languages?
It is common for researchers to use artificial languages to test certain aspects of language acquisition. Linguists at Northwestern University cleverly took it one step further by referencing the world of pop culture with their made-up language, naming it after satirist Stephen Colbert, a man known for humorously coining his own words, such as ‘truthiness’. Colbertian was used to test whether being bilingual aids in learning another language, which the researchers say it does. You can read more of the details in the Chicago Sun-Times write-up. Furthermore, you can even learn Colbertian yourself!
A new study from La Trobe University highlights yet again the importance of bilingualism from a young age. The same way that early exposure to multiple languages increases cognitive abilities in hearing children, exposure to both spoken and sign language for deaf children has positive effects on cognition and language learning. Check out this article for more details.
While you’re at it, feel free to increase your own bilingual abilities by taking a moment to learn some basic greetings in British Sign Language (BSL), which was the sign language focused on in the study.