Frequently Asked Questions

Le domande più frequenti sul bilinguismo


Researches have shown that there are many ways to be bilingual, and that all of them are positive. The commonly accepted definition of “a person who speaks two languages as a monoglot is bilingual” is at the same time short-sided and misleading, since it is based on the idea that a bilingual person is a “double monoglot”. That’s not true. When trying to classify bilingualism, though, we can distinguish among the following.


  • Bilingualism in early childhood: when the second language is introduced from birth and any time before the age of 3.
  • Infantile bilingualism: when the second language is introduced after the age of 3, such as at school.
  • Late bilingualism: when the second language is introduced after puberty.

According to researchers, whoever belongs to the first group (Bilingualism in early childhood) and the second group (Infantile bilingualism) can be considered a native speaker, while whoever belongs to the third group (Late bilingualism) cannot be considered as such, even if he/she manages to speak very well in their second language. This depends on the fact that the age at which the second language is introduced has important consequences on the brain development and functioning. Therefore, even if the mastery of the second language may look identical, the mental and brain processes are different, and this has a strong impact on the speaking fluency and on the way the brain processes other stimuli. Besides, who becomes bilingual during childhood can easily speak with a native mother tongue inflection, something that occurs very rarely with late bilinguals.

On the one hand, to allow your children to follow the Minister of Education’s guidelines and the curriculum of the ‘Italian Minister Curriculum’, and on the other hand to aid the easy, methodical and unforced learning of English with a simultaneous full immersion in a reality which includes and embraces two languages every day. The younger the children are, in fact, the easier it is for them to learn a second language, in a very natural and unprompted way. Besides, when children learn another language at an early age, they have a greater chance to speak it fluently and without inflection, just as native speakers do, whilst also allowing them to pick up other languages in the future in an easier and more natural manner.


FROM A CULTURAL POINT OF VIEW, bilingualism represents a treasure, since it allows the child to simultaneously deal with two languages and two different cultures, and therefore giving the chance to learn tolerance towards other cultures. Being able to speak two languages, of course, represents a great advantage in the labour market too.

FROM A COGNITIVE POINT OF VIEW, bilingualism has both linguistic and non-linguistic positive consequences. At a linguistic level, when the child knows more than one language, he/she becomes more aware of the language structure and functioning, and therefore has the great opportunity to achieve a great advantage with respect to monolingual peers in the metalinguistic analysis and learning of other languages. At a non-linguistic level, researchers have noticed that bilingualism has some very positive consequences on attention levels as well: bilinguals, in fact, are advantaged in situations requiring good selective focus, in other words, the ability to focus on the most relevant information and to hold back the negligible, such as when they have to manage different tasks at the same time or to quickly switch from one task to another.

METALINGUISTIC AWARENESS: knowing more than one language leads bilinguals to develop a bigger metalinguistic aptitude, in other words, to achieve a spontaneous larger knowledge of the language structure. Bilingual children intuitively understand the language structure and functioning, and thus are advantaged with respect to their monolingual peers when learning new languages.

COGNITIVE DECENTRALISATION: quite early in life, bilingual children become aware of other persons seeing things from perspectives different from theirs. This “Cognitive Decentralisation”, also known as the “Theory of Mind”, is usually reached by bilingual children one year earlier than monolingual children. This advantage seems to be due to the fact that bilingual children must constantly evaluate their interlocutors’ linguistic competence to devise which language they must speak in order to interact with them.

PLEASE NOTE: the research has demonstrated that bilinguals in general give better performances when they must carry out two tasks at the same time, which both require focus, and the ability to select the relevant stimuli whilst holding back the negligible ones. This seems to be due to the fact that both languages spoken by bilinguals are always simultaneously active in their brain. With time, bilinguals develop a sophisticated “hold back mechanism” allowing them to hold back one language when they must use the other one, reducing the meddling between the two linguistic systems.

Likewise, this “hold back mechanism” can be used in other situations and tasks which require focus and executive control, and improves performances when multitasking is required or when some tasks must be completed at a swift pace.

Source Raising Bilingual Children’ – Antonella Sorace e Bob Ladd

Absolutely not. Children are very sensitive to people speaking in different ways. Even if they hear only one language spoken, they quickly learn to distinguish between the women’s and men’s ways of talking, between a well-mannered way of speaking and a bad one. For children, bilingualism is only something that differentiates people!

Today, the research has shown us that what you are asking is not true. Being bilingual portrays an array of advantages: besides knowing more than one language, bilinguals also have a very flexible way of thinking, for example.

Source Raising Bilingual Children’ – Antonella Sorace e Bob Ladd

Similarly to bilingual adults, bilingual children often use some words in one language when they speak another one. This phenomenon is called “code-switching” and it does not mean that they are confused about the language they are speaking. However, when they speak to monolingual persons, bilingual children are very careful about using the right language. Mixing up different languages is normal whenever someone speaks both. Yet, this does not mean that children are forgetting one language, and it does not mean that they can’t distinguish between them anymore. Therefore, the goal should be to create natural situations in which children feel the desire and the urge to speak a language. The simplest exposure is an important ingredient for the children’s linguistic development.


Not at all. Learning languages in the early childhood is NATURAL and effortless, either when they learn one language, or when they learn more languages simultaneously. All children, both monolingual and bilingual, are endowed with an innate inclination to acquire linguistic skills, and this gift lets them learn languages without effort and without the need of explicit education. This inclination, however, decreases from the end of their early childhood, around the age of 5 and 6, until adolescence, around the age of 12. And that’s why it is extremely important to expose children to both languages as soon as possible.

Source Raising Bilingual Children’ – Antonella Sorace e Bob Ladd

The main thing to keep in mind is that parents do not “teach” their children to speak, just as they don’t teach them to smile or to walk. The most important factors in the development of the language are exposure and need. If a child is exposed since his/her birth in different circumstances to one language spoken by different persons, and if he feels the longing to use that language to interact with the surrounding world, he/she will learn it. If a child is exposed since his/her birth in different circumstances to two languages spoken by different persons, and if he feels the longing to use both to talk to people surrounding him/her, he/she will learn both.

Source Raising Bilingual Children’ – Antonella Sorace e Bob Ladd

Many experts endorse the method “one parent – one language” in the case of a bilingual family. The basic idea is that Mummy always speaks her language when talking to her child/ children, while Daddy speaks his own. This is a good starting point for a bilingual family, yet it is not the only one.

Source Raising Bilingual Children’ – Antonella Sorace e Bob Ladd

Don’t worry.
When your children were very young, they were probably more exposed to the family language than to English. Now that they attend school, they are exposed to English for several hours a day, and they learn a great deal of new words and new ways to use the language, and only in English.

It is not mandatory at all, although it would be useful for parents to support their children’s course. Nonetheless, all parents could easily pursue the same goal by paying continuous attention to their children’s school activities and have them listen to English books, read to them or sing simple songs. Always encourage them to do their best!

Children can enrol at the primary school without fear, and their inclusion will be gradual and well planned with the best tools and strategies to support their learning. Children will not be forced, but the environment, the (effectively trained) teacher and schoolmates will make their inclusion natural. If and when strictly required by special circumstances, a dedicated extra support could be taken into account in order for them to learn the language.

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