How many of us parents of bilingual children haven’t heard that comment? It might put doubts in your mind – are you actually doing more harm than good to your child’s development?
The simple answer is: no, you are not disadvantaging your children by bringing them up to be bilingual. On the contrary, you are making an array of benefits available to them. It is sad to see how multilingual parents take criticism like this to heart to the extent that they actually give up on passing on their languages. If you are in doubt, speak to someone who has been successful at raising bilingual children, don’t give up!
Children growing up with family members speaking different languages are no more confused about their language or identity than monolingual children. Yes, there might (but not always) be a slight delay in their speech development, but this minor drawback is well outweighed by the several benefits later in life.
If the adults in a family are consistent in their language use when addressing the child, very soon the child will identify the language with that person. My eldest daughter Minna translated for me for the first time at the tender age of two, concerned that I wouldn’t know what her dad was saying to her.
Even children that hear adults switching between languages will quickly learn how to be consistent about their own language use as long as they also get the chance to spend time with monolingual speakers of the language.
As far as (cultural) identity goes, speaking both or all of your family’s languages only goes to strengthen your self-image. Knowing the languages of your heritage allows you to directly explore and understand it in a more genuine way than through a different language.
Instead of getting confused by more than one language in a family, children also learn at an early age to see things from a different perspective, thus becoming more open-minded. In tests, bilingual children have on average shown a more tolerant behaviour towards anything “out of the norm” than their monolingual peers.
Comments about confusing your children by using different languages in the family, no matter how well-meant, are best not even commented on – there is quite often nothing you can do if someone has made up their mind about it. My technique was always to politely say “Thank you, I will think about that” – then switch to another topic.
May the peace and power be with you!