“It takes more than having two hands to be a good pianist. It takes more than knowing two languages to be a good translator or interpreter.”
These are the closing words of a recent piece by Professor François Grosjean in the Psychology Today blog.
Grosjean is Emeritus Professor of psycholinguistics at Neuchâtel University in Switzerland. He is a world-recognized expert on bilingualism and the author of three books on the topic. His latest book, Bilingual: Life and Reality, came out in 2010. I recently had the pleasure of conducting an interview with him on bilingualism, translation, and interpreting.
Nataly Kelly: What is the myth that you most commonly encounter about bilingualism?
François Grosjean: There are many myths, I’m afraid: bilinguals are rare and have equal and perfect knowledge of their languages; real bilinguals have acquired their two or more languages in childhood and have no accent in either of them; all bilinguals are also bicultural; switching between languages is a sign of laziness in bilinguals; bilinguals are born translators or interpreters; bilingualism will delay language acquisition in children and have negative effects on their development; and so on.
NK: What advice would you give to people who say, “I’m too old to learn a language”?
FG: Some people believe you cannot be a “real” bilingual if you have not acquired your two languages in infancy or at least as a young child. In fact, one can become bilingual at any time during one’s life — as a child, as an adolescent, or as an adult. There is no upper age limit for acquiring a new language and then continuing one’s life with two or more languages. Nor is there any limit in the fluency that one can attain in the new language with the exception of pronunciation skills. Read more.