The Bilingual Child and Grammar

“Aunt, if table is ‘tabili’ in Yoruba, what do you call an ottoman then?”
“Hmm, I’m not so sure”
“But I thought you understood your local language?”

Being bilingual is beautiful. I am bilingual, and have enjoyed its tremendous benefits. However, many bilingual speakers find themselves in the situation described above - attempting to describe something, or trying to translate a term or an expression into another language. 

Bilingualism is the ability to speak more than one language. One of its beauties is that it gives you an edge over monolingual speakers (people who speak fluently only in one language). According to Jeffery Nelson, if you are bilingual, people automatically think you’re a genius! 

Most children are capable of learning more than one language. Research has shown that one in five people over the age of five speak a language other than English at home. And, for such children, this comes with blessings such as good cognitive functions; learning new words easily; connecting with others, among others.

I have a little one whom I would love to have a good grasp of English grammar as well as my indigenous language, Yoruba (a Nigerian language) - so I won’t be guilty of Dot Wordsworth’s claim that “It’s cruel not to teach grammar to children”. But I recently discovered this is a bit challenging. 

While bilingualism comes with a lot of advantages, it is not without its woes. Studies have shown that bilingual speakers have smaller vocabulary than monolingual speakers. Also, some bilingual speakers are prone to making agreement errors such as subject-verb, subject-object or object-verb agreement. These and other issues could affect children’s equal skill in both languages.

In my opinion, English seems richer than some other languages. Maybe, linguists will consider working on developing more languages other than English, so parents and bilingual speakers like me wouldn’t have to sweat over teaching grammar to our little ones.

PS: it's good to be back :).

Other work consulted: 
Jeffery Nelson. The Benefits of Being Bilingual: People Think You’re a Genius Omniglot (


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