One of the most common questions I get asked as a Speech-Language Pathologist is if their child is a late talker because they speak two languages at home. I’m here today to debunk some of the common myths of bilingualism, and provide some tips for bilingual parents.
Myth 1: My child is a late talker because they are learning two languages
Some children learn language later than others, but it is not because they are bilingual.
First, it is important to mention that when we are counting our toddler’s number of words, we need to take into account both languages. If a child is learning just one language and has 50 words, this is comparable to a bilingual child who has 50 words (both languages combined).Their individual languages will have less words than expected, but when added together, they should be hitting their milestones. The average 18 month old has about 50 words, regardless of whether they are monolingual or bilingual.
If your child is 18 months old and not using words in either language, their language development is behind and it is recommended to see a Speech-Language Pathologist.
MYTH 2: I should only speak English to my late talker
Not true. It is recommended that parents speak the language they are most comfortable with. We want children to be exposed to excellent language models, meaning they are hearing rich grammar and vocabulary on a day to day basis. If you learned English later in life, you are likely better at speaking your first language. It will benefit your child to be exposed to your best language so they can have a strong language foundation. This will also help them learn new languages later on.
MYTH 3: My child will get confused hearing both languages
This is incorrect. Children are able to hear the difference between two languages at a very young age. It was once common for professionals to suggest that one parent speak one language, while the other parent speak the other language to the child as a way of separating the languages. While this may be a strategy that you decide to use, there is no research to suggest that this is the best way. There are many different ways that parents choose to raise their bilingual children. It is normal for bilingual speakers to mix both languages, and once they start talking, it is normal for your child to do it as well.
This does not mean that everything you say should be said in both languages. Just speak naturally, and use the language strategies on this website if you want to do more for your late talker.
MYTH 4: my child SHOULD watch TV to learn English
Also not true. TV is not the best way for your child to learn language. Kids learn language best through interacting with real people in real life. If you are speaking only your home language at home but want your child to learn English, you could enroll them in daycare or take them to a free community play group. To read more about screen time recommendations, check out this article.
Benefits of Bilingualism
Bilingualism has many benefits! Studies have shown that there are cognitive advantages such as better ability to solve complex problems and pay attention to relevant information. A child’s ability to speak their home language is also an invaluable thing. It can allow them to feel more connected to their home culture and family. If a child is the only one in their family who doesn’t speak the native language, this can be isolating and have a big social and emotional impact.
Summary: Bilingualism and Late Talkers
- Bilingualism does NOT cause language delays
- Include both languages when determining your toddler’s total vocabulary
- Speak your best language with your child, in a natural way
- It’s normal for children to mix two languages
- If you are concerned about your child’s language development, see a Speech-Language Pathologist
To get more tips to help your late talker:
Core, C., & Hoff, E. (2015). What Clinicians Need to Know about Bilingual Development. Seminars in Speech and Language, 36(02), 089-099. doi:10.1055/s-0035-1549104 https://www.thieme-connect.com/products/ejournals/html/10.1055/s-0035-1549104
Lowry, L. (n.d.). Bilingualism in Young Children: Separating Fact from Fiction. Retrieved July 3, 2019, from http://www.hanen.org/Helpful-Info/Articles/Bilingualism-in-Young-Children–Separating-Fact-fr.aspx
Paradis, J. (n.d.). Clinicians and educators. Retrieved July 3, 2019, from http://www.bi-sli.org/Clinicians-and-Educators.htm