Common Misconceptions About Second Language Learning

September 27, 2022
Written by:
Jamie Gaddy

Post sponsored by Asian Language School

Many parents are eager to have their children learn a second language or even a third language. Not surprising given the many benefits associated with being bilingual or multilingual. One of the benefits is improved cognitive functioning. Experts claim that bilingual children have enhanced executive functioning skills: skills to control, direct and manage one’s attention, as well as plan. This means bilingual children can focus better and multi-task better than monolingual children in general, as a result of their brains being trained to switch between two languages from an early age.

However, some parents still have some concerns about their children learning a second language. In this article, we are going to explore and clarify common parental misconceptions about second language learning for children.

Misconception #1: Learning two languages will only confuse children and delay their first language development.

Part of the myth above is influenced by outdated studies that did not take into account environmental factors at that time. New studies have proven otherwise. What shows up as children experiencing “confusion” is actually code-mixing, where they borrow the vocabularies of the second language in their communication. This is perfectly normal. Children will eventually grow out of this phase where they can control whether to speak in one language or another.

Misconception #2: Children will only be successful in learning a second language if their parents are fluent in that language.

Experts claim there are two factors that determine children’s language development: exposure and need. Given enough natural exposure in varied environments, combined with a need to use the second language to communicate with others, children will learn to use both first and second languages fluently. Some parents who are not native speakers of the second language may resort to finding a nanny for their children or sending them to an immersion school. These are not the only options to provide children with natural exposure to the second language. It is much easier today to find authentic resources to surround children with, such as cartoons and children’s songs on YouTube in the second language, bilingual books on Amazon, and so on, even when the parents do not speak the language.

Misconception #3: Children will only become fluent in a second language if they receive exposure from when they are a toddler or younger.

Even though there is a general consensus that it will be better for children to start learning a second language as early as possible, researchers from Boston universities show that children can achieve proficiency in the second language up until 18 years old, and for them to achieve fluency of a native speaker, to start before the age of 10. Essentially, the brain’s plasticity and learning condition are two important factors that determine the success of second language acquisition, regardless of age. Learning a second language will also facilitate the subsequent learning of other languages in the future, making the process much easier.

Misconception #4: The more rigorous children study a second language, the more fluent they will become in the target language.

Experts claim that comprehensible input is a major factor in determining children’s success in second language acquisition. What it means is that they must understand most communication in the second language, leaving only some room to be explained. In order for this to happen, children must already know the basics, and gradually have the levels of inputs stepped up to increase their second language proficiency further. Simply memorizing tons of vocabulary or spending hours doing grammatical homework will not make children become fluent in the target language, because language needs to be subconsciously acquired, and fluency will be achieved when there is a practical need to communicate in that language.

The Solution We Offer

Having explored some of the success factors in second language acquisition, ALS has created engaging video lessons that homeschoolers can use to study a second language effectively, such as Japanese. Some of the features of ALS Online Language Courses are:

  • The lessons are teacher-led, where children can see and listen to a native-speaking teacher, thus offering authentic inputs to build their speaking and listening skills.
  • Vocabulary and grammar are introduced step-by-step so that children can build on their language skills gradually. Additionally, the explanation is given in both English and the second language. And gradually throughout the course, the course teacher will use more and more of the second language.
  • There are separate courses for elementary and secondary grades so the contents are age-appropriate.
  • The lessons are not just about grammar, children will also get to learn many interesting cultures of the language they are learning.

But don’t forget that interest is an important success factor too in second language acquisition. Children must have a genuine interest in that language, and the lessons must be engaging enough to motivate them to continue learning. Last but not least, what children can take with them out of the experience of learning a second language is the excitement of exploring a different culture, which can be a liberating experience altogether, and something special to have for the rest of their life!


More articles on Second Language Learning

How to Homeschool Foreign Language

Top 10 Homeschool Foreign Language Resources

Jamie Gaddy

Jamie Gaddy, B.S., M.Ed., Ed.D. has been a college education professor for over 17 years. Education has been a part of her life in both the classroom and as a principal. Six children later found her dissatisfied with traditional school and homeschool became the better fit. She is also a pastor’s wife, editor, and entrepreneur who now homeschools four of her six children in Georgia. Jamie loves to share about her homeschool experience to help other homeschoolers find success. Connect with her at [email protected].