It is obvious that a multilingual child can reach a high level of competency in each of their languages. However, problems can arise, especially at a young age, if they are evaluated in the same way as their monolingual peers.
Why is it better to avoid comparing multilingual children´s use of language with that of monolingual children?
The eyes are the reflection of the soul, we say. The same can be said about our use of language, because it reveals just as much about us. Teachers, speech therapists and psychologists often rely on children’s use of language to check their level of maturity, or their cognitive or emotional states.
These tests, just like other means of assessment, were originally created to measure the linguistic development of monolingual students. However, monolinguals show a more linear evolution, and their development is therefore segmentable in clearer phases according to age. This means we can give clear guidelines about our expectations of a monolingual child's development.
However, this evolution, in the case of a multilingual person, becomes a complex system. Even the learning of just two languages can occur in two different ways from the point of view of chronology, that is to say, they can be learnt simultaneously or one after the other. If a child speaks more than two languages, the number of variants grows exponentially. And furthermore, linguistic evolution can even decrease, that is to say, one or more languages can be unlearned.
It is obvious that a multilingual child can reach a high level of competency in each of their languages. However, problems can arise, especially at a young age, if they are evaluated in the same way as their monolingual peers. This is because their scores would depend on which language a test was taken in and at what stage. Although a multilingual child has a greater overall vocabulary than that of his monolingual peers, he may have temporary difficulties in one language or another. It is also possible that he would use simpler grammatical forms than his monolingual peers, due to the fact that he is learning various grammatical systems at the same time. However, these differences will lessen during the learning process and little by little he will be able to reach the level that corresponds to his age in all his languages.
Multilingualism in itself does not cause any learning difficulties; however, it does not generate immunity against them. In other words, a multilingual child may suffer from dyslexia, but is not dyslexic because he is multilingual. However, multilinguals are sometimes misdiagnosed with learning difficulties because doctors confuse healthy phenomena with anomalies. Conversely, real problems are sometimes neglected because they have been attributed to multilingualism.
For this reason, it is very important that before going to any specialist, you make sure that they take your child’s multilingualism into account. It is also advisable to ask, when choosing nurseries or schools, whether their evaluation system considers these factors.