Bilingualism: Can a child with language delays learn two languages?

As a speech-language pathologist and Early Intervention provider, I frequently work with families who speak more than one language. While there is plenty of research on the benefits of bilingualism on children’s language development and cognitive skills, there is often confusion regarding the impact of two languages on delayed language learners. This blog aims to address frequently asked questions by bilingual families to guide language use inside and out of the home.

Question: My child has been exposed to two languages since birth. Has this caused his/her language delay?
Answer: Bilingualism itself will NOT cause a language delay. In fact, research shows that bilingualism may lead to long-term advantages, such as increasing vocabulary and problem solving skills. Birth-to-three years of age is the critical period for language acquisition, meaning that this is the easiest time in childhood for children to learn a second language.

Question: My child has a language delay. I’m afraid that a second language will confuse him/her. Should I stop speaking a second language to my child?
Answer: Definitely not! It is encouraged that bilingual families continue to speak both languages to their child and that this is carried over across settings (e.g., school, playgroups, etc.). Children with language delays can learn to speak two languages if given the appropriate supports and opportunities.

Question: My child is two years old and not yet speaking. He’s exposed to both English and our native language at home, so this is okay, right?
Answer: While children simultaneously exposed to two languages may say their first words a bit later than monolingual children, they are still expected to learn language at roughly the same rate. If your child is two years old and not yet producing words, he or she should be referred for a full speech and language evaluation.

Question: How can I support bilingual language acquisition in my child?
Answer: Some families choose to have one parent solely speak one language and have the other parent solely speak the other language. Some families decide to have parents speak both languages and use them interchangeably. Either way is fine, but it is important to consider what feels the most natural for you and your family!

What’s the takeaway?
There is NO scientific evidence that living in a bilingual household will negatively impact the language development of children. Furthermore, children with language delays CAN learn two languages with consistent, rich exposure to both languages.

Questions or concerns?
If you have questions or concerns about the impact of two languages on your child, please contact us at info@playworkschicago.com or 773-332-9439.

Jill Teitelbaum, MS, CF-SLP
Speech-Language Pathologist

References:

Lowry, L., & Speech, H. C. (2012). Can children with language impairments learn two languages?. The Hanen Centre.

Photo Credit: 4dgraphic via unsplash.com

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