Growing up Bilingual
Is it confusing for my child if we teach them two languages?
This is a common question with bilingual households. If my child is delayed in language and speech, should we only speak one language? Research tells us that typically developing monolingual and bilingual children will go through the same milestones in all languages. They will speak their first words generally around 12 months and begin combining words around 24 months, that does not change regardless if a child is monolingual or bilingual. What about their expressive vocabulary? According to the Hanen Centre, while a child’s vocabulary in each language may be smaller, their overall combined vocabulary from both languages will be the same as a monolingual child.
As we continue to grow in this multilingual universe, here are some common myths about learning two languages:
Learning two languages can cause a language delay or disorder.
Learning two languages confuses my child.
I only want my child to speak one language, so I should stop speaking my home language
Fortunately, these are just myths! There has been extensive research done and has shown that there are many benefits to being bilingual. Bilingual children can have an easier time learning new words and vocabulary, developing reading skills, grouping vocabulary into categories, coming up with solutions to problems, and listening and connecting with others.
Let’s take a look at those myths again and see what the research says:
1. Learning two languages can cause a language delay or disorder
When an SLP sees a speech/language delay in bilingual children, we often see the delays in both languages. When we see a delay in one language and proficiency in the other, it generally means the child is still learning the second language. This is called a language difference.
2. Learning two languages confuses my child.
As bilingual children continue to develop language and grammar, they may mix the two grammar rules periodically, this is normal! Eventually, they will learn to separate both languages around 4 years old. Mixing the two languages is known as “code mixing” or “code switching.”
3. I only want my child to speak one language, so I should stop speaking my home language
Research shows that a child can become isolated from family members who only speak the home language because they have no knowledge of their family’s home language. It also shows that children who have a strong foundation in their home language can easily learn a second language.
So, don’t be afraid to speak a second language to your children! Parents are encouraged to speak the language they are most comfortable with and/or most fluent at. Conversations become more natural for parents and these conversations are what helps children learn language in the most natural way possible. Be sure to provide many opportunities during play and everyday routines so that they can hear it and speak it in order to continue to interact with your home language.
-Helen Deduonni, M.S., CF-SLP