Myth-busting: Bilingualism / English as an additional language

January 1, 2024

This short blog clears up some myths and presents the facts about children and young people having two or more languages.

There are a few different terms used to describe children and young people with two or more languages. Mostly, these can be used interchangeably. The terms include: 

  • English as an additional language’ or EAL is a term used to describe children and young people who hear languages other than English at home (Department for Education, 2019). 
  • Languages other than English’ or LOTE is another term used to describe these children and young people. 
  • Bilingual’ is another term used in the UK to describe people who understand and/or use two or more languages (Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists, 2021). 

A while ago, it wasn’t unusual for some professionals to discourage parents/carers from speaking their home language to their child if it was a language other than English. There was also some confusion about whether this was good or bad practice. Now, there is lots of evidence across the world that highlights bilingualism as being an advantage to children and young people for many reasons. Despite the proof from research, there are still some myths lurking around, which we are happy to ‘debunk’ below! 


Myth 1: Children will get confused if they hear two or more languages at home. 

This isn’t true. Lots of studies show that children can tell the difference between different languages early on. They might do something called ‘code-switching’ which is when they replace a word in one language with a word from another language – so they are effectively using two languages in the same sentence. It’s nothing to worry about and is a normal part of bilingualism – even bilingual adults do it! 


Myth 2: Children don’t do well at school if they hear two or more languages at home. 

In fact, many bilingual children do better academically than children who hear and speak one language. A strong foundation in one language helps children to learn other languages, including English, better – this helps them to do well at school. 


Myth 3: Children who hear two or more languages will have speech and language challenges. 

Again, not true. The Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists state that bilingualism does not cause or contribute to speech and language challenges. It’s important to be aware though, that some bilingual children will have speech and language challenges, just as monolingual children do. The difference is that a bilingual child with speech and language challenges will have difficulties in BOTH or ALL of their languages – not just in English. 


Myth 4: There are certain languages that are useful, and certain languages that aren’t.  

Every language is important. Of course, developing English is important for children going to English-speaking schools. But research shows that when a child knows their home/heritage language, this helps their academic achievement, self-confidence, and family relationships. Later in life, it can increase their employment opportunities. Importantly, it helps them understand their cultural and ethnic identity better.  


What can I do to help? 

We all play a role in dispelling the myths surrounding bilingualism. To help you do that, we’ve created some tools and resources that you can use and share for free: 

  1. A bilingualism factsheet, dispelling the myths for parents 
  1. Our EAL Key Messages, developed with Cambridge University’s Bilingual Network and Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists 
  1. Watch out for an upcoming bilingualism-focused Talking with your toddler webinar by a Speech and Language Advisor. 


Interested in reading more? Check out some of the articles we referenced when putting this blog together: 

Byers-Heinlein, K., & Lew-Williams, C. (2013). Bilingualism in the Early Years: What the Science Says. LEARNing Landscapes, 7(1), 95–112. 

Department for Education. (2019). English proficiency: pupils with English as additional language. Retrieved November 1, 2022, from data/file/868209/English_proficiency_of_EAL_pupils.pdf 

Hartshorne, J. K., Tenenbaum, J. B., & Pinker, S. (2018). A critical period for second language acquisition: Evidence from 2/3 million English speakers. Cognition, 177, 263–277. 

Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists. (2021, March 31). Bilingualism – clinical information for SLTs | RCSLT. RCSLT. 

Weekly, R. (2020). Attitudes, beliefs and responsibility for heritage language maintenance in the UK. Current Issues in Language Planning.