All children learn how to speak little by little and in a similar way. However, bilingual children have to learn two languages at the same time.

Marie: Mum (in French)

Ahmad: Mum (in French). Mum (in Arabic)

Mei: Mum (in French). Mum (in Chinese)

In their brains, their two languages are not entirely separate, but they interact with each other. There are 5 main types of interaction between bilingual children’s two languages.

The first type is called code switching.

Code switching happens when someone says one sentence in a language and follows that with a sentence in another language. It also happens when Ahmad is asked a question in a language and replies in a different language.

Ahmad: Happy birthday! (in French) Greetings!(in Arabic) Do you like the present? (in French)

Nour: Yes! (in French)

Ahmad: Great! (in Arabic)

The second interaction between languages is called code mixing. Code mixing happens when Liang uses single words in Chinese while talking in French.

The fact that bilingual children mix two languages does not mean that they are confused.

Bo: Can I have an (in French) apple (in Chinese)?

Bo’s mother: Yes (in Chinese), of course! (in French)

The third type of influence of one language on the other is called delay. Ahmad needs more time to learn his two languages, compared to Marie who only speaks French. In fact, Ahmad knows fewer French words than Marie. However, if we consider the words Amhad knows in Arabic and French combined, he knows more words than Marie!

Marie: Yes, Mother, Father, Apple (in French)

Ahmad: Yes, Mother (in French), Father, Apple, Casa (In Arabic)..

The 4th interaction is called acceleration. Bilingual children’s language learning can be faster than their monolingual peers’. For example, Bo is more prepared to learn how to read than Marie because she is used to seeing texts that are written in Chinese characters and other texts that are written with letters from the French alphabet.

The last type of influence is called transfer. Bilingual children may transfer some elements that are typical of one language to the other one. In some cases this can lead to mistakes being made. For example, Pablo might sometimes say “he” instead of “she” because, in Spanish, he normally doesn’t have to express the subject.

Pablo: “She is funny”.

In other cases, transfer can have positive results. For instance, being able to read in Spanish can help Pablo to read better in English! To sum up, bilingual children’s two languages interact with each other. This is often for the best, but it may sometimes result in mistakes. Don’t worry though: these errors are normal and, in the long run, they simply disappear!

Teachers: Don’t worry!

Themes: {:en}Promoting Multilingualism in the Family{:}{:it}Promuovere il multilinguismo nella famiglia{:}, Promoting multilingualism in the classroom, and Promoting Second Language Learning

Resource type: Did you know?

Tags: bilingualism, interaction between languages, and language learning

Age range: 7+

Available in: Arabic, Chinese, Czech, Dutch, English, Farsi, French, Georgian, German, Greek, Gujarati, Italian, Japanese, Portuguese, Punjabi, Romani, Russian, Shqip, Sinhalese, Slovenian, Spanish, Tagalog, Tamil, Turkish, Ukranian, and Urdu