3 myths about bilingualism dispelled

Let’s look today at the most common myths about bilingualism, still haunting the scientific scene.

Myth One – monolinguality is normal.

A monolingual individual is the norm all over the world. It is, after all, the starting point in dealing with basic topics in linguistic research, such as the construction of grammar, nature of competence, mental representation of language, etc.

Myth Two – monolinguality is desirable.

It is more efficient and economical to learn just one language, so that you are left with more time that you can devote to learning other things. It is said that bilingualism hampers development in children, and not just linguistic development but also intellectual.

Myth Three – monolinguality is unavoidable.

Bilingualism is just a negative temporary phase on the way from monolinguality in L1 to monolinguality in L2. It is inevitable that a person will lose one of their languages on the way, or worse – will become equally incompetent in both languages.


Phew!!!… Luckily, these myths have been long abolished, thanks to, among others, Francois Grosjean, but some remnants of these opinions may still be found pulled out from under the carpet here and there.

Let’s hear what researchers of bilingualism say today.

Addressing Myth One

Grosjean says: “research on bilingualism was often conducted in terms of the bilingual’s individual and separate languages (the use of language A or of language B when in fact both languages are often used simultaneously).” (Interview on bilingualism 2002. http://www.francoisgrosjean.ch/interview_en.html)

Addressing Myth Two

Still Grosjean: “Recent studies indicate that bilingual children do better than monolingual children in some domains (e.g. tasks that require control of attention, also called selective control); they do as well as monolinguals in other domains (… and they sometimes do less well than monolinguals (e.g. in vocabulary tests where only one language is taken at a time, and the child is dominant in a language). The latter result can be explained by means of the Complementarity Principle which states that bilinguals usually acquire and use their languages for different purposes, in different domains of life, with different people. Different aspects of life often require different languages. Unfortunately, research rarely takes into account this principle and hence bilingual children are penalized when compared to their monolingual counterparts.”

Addressing Myth Three

Grosjean says “I am constantly thinking of bilinguals who belittle their bilingualism because they do not master their languages to the same level. This leaves them insecure and worried about their status as human communicators. This saddens me as all bilinguals should have positive feelings about their bilingualism. I often tell them that monolinguals have to cover all domains of life with just one language and that they, as bilinguals, have to do so with two or more languages (one language for some domains of life, the other language(s) for other domains, and two or more languages for yet other domains). They are human communicators, like monolinguals, but they simply communicate differently.”


Some researchers express their point of view in a more radical way. Tove Skutnabb-Kangas writes:

monolinguality is a result of a wrong educational policy and of lingucism. The patients, i.e. those individuals who suffer from monolingual stupidity, are in need of care.” And she continues: “like cholera or leprosy, monolinguality is an illness which should be eradicated as soon as possible. It is dangerous for peace in the world.” (Bilingualism or not 1984)

Nice, ah? Well, who said scientific world is all about egg-headed weaklings who never leave their labs and talk mainly to rats? Oh, they know how to fight for their standpoints and will resort to any kind of dubious methods on the way. Scientists rule!

3 thoughts on “3 myths about bilingualism dispelled”

  1. Thanks, I’ve just been looking for information about this subject for ages and yours is the greatest I’ve found out so far. But, what concerning the conclusion? Are you certain in regards to the source?

    1. Hi, thank you for your comment.
      My point here was that topics such as definitions of bilingualism and identity of bilingual speakers can get very heated among the linguists. And that is a good thing, to know someone is so passionate about these topics, as Francois Grosjean is. Frankly, I consider him one of the greatest researchers of bilingualism ever.

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