Are There Any Disadvantages to Being Bilingual?

Being bilingual has a lot of advantages which includes better salaries, ability to appreciate several cultures, interaction with more people. Recent studies have shown that bilinguals possess better cognitive functions, have the ability to learn more words and languages, process information in new ways, come up with solutions to problems, good listening skills and improved communication skills. The ability to analyse different aspects of a language (sounds, syntax and words). The benefits of being bilingual are so immense that one cannot but wonder if there are any disadvantages to being bilingual? What disadvantage can possibly arise from being able to understand and communicate in two languages? A lot of research has been carried out to show or discover the disadvantages that bilinguals face. Are there challenges peculiar to a specific group of bilinguals?

So, are there any disadvantages to been bilingual? Yes, bilinguals face quite a number of challenges while learning the language (in their early childhood) and even more challenges when they are older in the society. So if you are considering learning to speak another language, there are lots of challenges you are probably going to have to deal with. Some of these challenges are language fluency delay, mixing languages, dominance of one another over the other, reading and writing, being passively bilingual, prejudice, cultural and religious biases amongst others. Occasional problems such as the tip of tongue effects, code switching and literal interpretation or translation are also some the challenges that bilinguals are faced with.

Prior to this time, you probably didn’t think bilingualism has its disadvantages since its demerits are seldom discussed. However, these challenges can be well managed, thus making the individual to be able to fully harness the benefits of bilingualism without bothering about its consequences.

What are the disadvantages of bilingualism?

  1. Language Fluency Delay: Most times, speech delay is often confused with language delay. According to research, it has been discovered that speech delay is not as a result of bilingualism, however since an individual is trying to learn or master two languages, he or she (especially children) may take a longer time being fluent in these languages resulting in language fluency delay. Monolingual children are usually compared with their monolingual age group, without considering the fact that they have to learn twice the vocabulary of their monolingual peers. In extreme cases, some children don’t speak at all. However, if your child is in this category, don’t panic just yet, he should be able to speak in time.
  2. Mixing Languages: It is a common sight to see people start a sentence with one language and then finish it with another. People tend to use whatever words they find easily to communicate and express themselves. So, if they lack the words to use in a language, they simply fill it up with words from another language. For instance, an English speaker that equally speaks Italian, can speak in English and employ Italian grammar.
  3. The dominance of one language over the other: Bilingual individuals sometimes prefer to speak one language more than the other, making one of the languages dominant. This is a regular occurrence as they might find one easier than the other and hence expose themselves to it even more. For immigrants who are mostly bilinguals (speaking their heritage language and their community language), the heritage language suffers a lot. Sometimes, they refuse to communicate with their parents or any other person in their heritage language probably because the language is less popular within their community.
  4. Reading and Writing: Speaking might be a natural process, reading and writing is not and as such requires a lot of attention, time as well as effort. Except an individual decides and works towards being literate in the minor language, he/ she might not be able to read or write in the minor language.
  5. Being receptively bilingual: Receptive bilingualism is the ability of an individual to be able to speak a particular language, understand the other but be unable to speak it. Most times, this is caused as a result of a real need for the language, lack of enough exposure to the language. Lack of vocabulary is a strong factor to consider in receptive bilinguals.
  6. Prejudice: Bilinguals are not really as celebrated as we thought they always were. Most of the people thought of them as special, however, some people think of them as weird or strange individuals. Immigrants, especially look different and are somehow still affiliated with their culture. They possess a strange accent that gives them off and characterizes them as different. Children can be mean at times coming together to attack anybody different from themselves. Bilingual adults are seen as proud people who only talk for just trying to “show off” making their peers feel jealous, especially if they have tried learning the language before and failed. It is a huge challenge for bilinguals to try to blend in with their peers and not be seen as “weirdoes” or “Know it all”.
  7. Cultural biases: Learning a second language in schools are not usually appreciated by parents as it is seen as an attack on their culture and way of life. Learning is often faced with strong opposition from parents since learning of a second language is believed to slow down their children’s learning in other subjects. This is a common misconception that affects prospective bilinguals.
  8. Religious biases: Most religions regard bilinguals very poorly, especially in translational services. Some religions place bilinguals in high regard as they see as a vital tool in spreading their message to the rest of the world. Other religions, however, consider the translation of any of their religious works as unacceptable. It is strictly forbidden to translate any part of these works and the original language is seen as the only standard to be adhered to, even if the original language is no longer in use and now extinct.

How to manage the disadvantages of bilingualism?

The disadvantages of bilingualism can be managed, in order to fully harness its merits, here are some tips on how to overcome those challenges:

  1. Spending time with a bilingual child: The impact that time and effort has on a bilingual child cannot be overemphasized. The time spent with them playing, singing, asking questions and talking will help the child solve a lot of problems like language fluency delay, peer pressure, mixing the language and passive bilingualism. Repetition is the strength of the memory thus nursery rhymes must be used to help the child. A lot of patience is required in overcoming the challenges associated with being bilingual.
  2. Exposure and excursion: Exposure and excursions go a long way in helping to overcome the demerits of being bilingual. Excursion can be added especially ones that will help develop the minor language. Playgroups and immersion programs can help in developing minor language help attain perfect bilingualism. Games, movies and books can be employed in trying to expose them to more of the minor language. Camping and other outdoor programs have been proven to be of tremendous help to bilinguals, as this a way of making their peers appreciate their minor language. This will help their peers prejudice when it comes to the language (understand their effort to connect to their roots in the case of an immigrant through their language) and might even assist them in their learning process.
  3. Formal tutelage: Enrolling in a language school has proven to be extremely helpful to help bilinguals. The school provides an environment to converse in the language and not feel different from other kids as most of them are likely to be bilinguals. This will help develop his or her confidence and encourage him or her to converse in the minor language.
  4. Creating a need for the language: A need for the language is one of the important tips that help most bilinguals practice and speak the language. Furthermore, the need for the language helps to develop confidence, solve the problem of language fluency and help create interest in other monolinguals to learn once they see the need for it, thereby solving the problem of societal prejudice attached to monolinguals by their peers.

You might want to know

Most people believe that bilingualism reduces the ability of a child to learn compared to their monolingual peers. However, according to recent studies it has been discovered that bilingualism actually makes a child perform better academically. The child’s ability to communicate, read and write in two languages has enhanced their cognitive skills as well as their approach to solving problems. Bilinguals experience a significant boost in areas such as working memories, inhibitory control, cognitive flexibility, and multitasking. Monolinguals might have a little vocabulary more than bilingual individuals but the cognitive advantage they will acquire is huge.

Being bilingual certainly as it disadvantages, however, if effectively managed, bilingualism can be a huge advantage for anyone who dares to learn another language aside from their own.