Language Learning

5 Common “Mistakes” Bilingual Kids Make (It’s OK!)

Don’t fret! Bilingual kids make mistakes– but guess what? So do monolingual kids learning one language. Making mistakes is just part of the learning process, which is why this post is titled Common “Mistakes” Bilingual Kids Make.

Making mistakes  doesn’t mean that your child is not learning his languages well, or that his ability to speak or learn is hindered in any way. Rest assured, your child’s little brain is working to learn a lot of information and s/he is capable of doing it!

As you may know, my son is learning to speak Spanish and French at home and English at school. Now that he is speaking a lot more, there are times when he says funny things and makes mistakes.

  So I’m sharing our experiences so that you can rest assured, this doesn’t only happen to you and your child is just learning. Here are some common language mistakes I’ve dealt with at home:  1. Confusing Gender: When is a word feminine? When is a word masculine? There have been some pretty fun moments with our son when he is trying to figure out if a word is masculine or feminine. In Spanish, a pretty good rule if thumb is that words that end in O are masculine and words that end in A are feminine, right? Of course there are always exceptions to this rule– like “mano” (hand) which is feminine, i.e. LA MANO.    2. “I just add an A to make the word feminine, right mama?” We teach our kids adjectives or adverbs in Spanish and it goes something like this: un niño está cansado, una niña está cansada, chiquito/chiquita, etc. This happened a few months ago: 

This is an excellent example of bilingual brains at work! The logic in my son’s mistake totally makes sense, right? If caballeros are male, then obviously a girl would be a caballera… easy enough right? It’s important to not focus on the mistake itself, which simply represents a lack of knowledge and use it as a teaching moment.

It’s interesting to see his brain working — I understand why they say that bilingual brains get plenty of exercise!

3. Mixing languages (aka Codeswitching): Is it OK?

Yes– it is OK if your child is mixing his languages.

Think about it this way: If you were trying to communicate in another language, wouldn’t you use everything you had available in order to communicate? It’s the same for kids– if a child is speaking in Spanish but uses words in English, it isn’t a bad thing. All it means is that the child is using what he has at his disposal. In this case, the child may not know what the word is in Spanish, so he uses what he knows. In other cases, the child may choose to use the easiest word to pronounce. My son did this often with please and por favor. Please is a lot easier to say than por favor so my son often opted to say please even if he was speaking in Spanish.

4. My child is making up words, is that normal?

Yes, no worries! My son has become a pro at making words up. Again this just shows imagination and that your child is trying to make himself be understood. His funniest words include “carota” (for carrot) instead of zanahoria, and “vianda” for meat (in French it’s viande, so he just added an A to make it become “Spanish.”) Check out this post for more of his Enzoisms, creative words in Fran-Span-glish.

5. Confusing the articles:  EL & LA/UNO & UNA 

French book for preschoolers

A pretty good rule of thumb (in Spanish) is that words that end in O are masculine and words that end in A are feminine, right? Of course there are exception to this rule– like “la mano” (hand) ends in O but it is feminine.

Not only do kids have to learn what the gender of a  word is in Spanish (and French),  they also have to learn that each word has an article which specifies gender. It’s common for kids to say “el mano” or “el leche” or “una gato” or “una zapato.”

Again, kids are just learning and it’s our job not to make them feel badly about mixing up the articles, but rather just teaching them the right way to do it. A simple way to do this is simply to add the article when you are teaching new vocabulary. Think about it this way: A word in Spanish (or French) always needs an article… so when you’re describing words or introducing new words, add the article in automatically. ex: la casa, la cocina, el plato… don’t just say “plato or “cuchara,”  say “el plato” and “la cuchara.” Think of them as inseparable. I like the books that include the articles along with the names of the objects like the book we use to practice French vocabulary.

Let’s chat! What “mistakes” does your child make? 

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5 common mistakes bilingual kids make

Diana Limongi
Diana a mom, activist, nonprofit professional, podcaster and writer from Queens, NY. She writes about motherhood, activism, raising my multilingual kids, culture and travel. She and her multicultural family live in Queens, NY.

1 Comment

  1. Hey! I am teaching my 7 kids Spanish, Russian, German, French, Sign Language,and Chinese. We are most advanced in Spanish because I speak it fairly well. Russian is our next most spoken language. Daddy speaks Russian fairly well. I only speak a few words in German and French from my Great grandmother and Great aunt. I learned Signing in grade school. I can spell Sign fairly well. Chinese was something my youngest son wanted to learn because of a literature connections class about language and culture. We are having a lot of fun as we learn together!

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