Raising a Bilingual Child: Speech and Language Development

Flag-map_of_the_world.svgDid you know that 21% of school-age children in the United States speak a language other than English at home? As the world becomes increasingly multicultural, more and more children are being raised speaking more than one language. Many parents worry about what this means for their child’s language development: Will my child’s language development be delayed? Will they become confused by hearing two languages? Read on to learn more about how being bilingual impacts language development:

There are different ways to be bilingual. Bilingual children typically fall into one of two categories: simultaneous or sequential. A “simultaneous bilingual” child learns both languages at the same time. A “sequential bilingual” child learns a second language after the first has already been established, typically after the age of three.

Being bilingual doesn’t negatively impact overall language development. Children who are raised bilingual usually reach language development milestones within a typical timeframe. Those that do seem to lag behind in the early stages are typically completely caught up to their peers by the age of five. Research has even shown that there are some advantages associated with being bilingual, including being able to learn new words more easily, being better at breaking words down by sound, and strong problem solving skills.

Combining vocabulary and grammar is normal. Bilingual children will often “code mix” or rapidly “code shift.” This means they may use elements of both languages within the same conversational exchange or sentence. This is a normal part of bilingual language development and will decrease over time as the child becomes more proficient in both languages.

Language can temporarily go “underground.” Sequential bilingual children often go through a silent period when the second language is introduced. This period typically occurs when a child realizes that others don’t understand their native language, but they’re not yet able to communicate fully in their second language. During this time, the child will primarily listen to others, then transition to using single words and short phrases, and finally fully “go public” with their second language. In the vast majority of cases, this period only lasts for a short time and is a typical part of language development. However, for a small minority of children, the silent period can develop into communication anxiety and even selective mutism. To learn more about this issue and how a speech-language pathologist can help, check in with us again next week.

If you have any questions or would like to know more about speech-language therapy, give us a call at (212) 308-7725 or send an e-mail to jayne@speechassociatesofny.com. I’d be happy to chat and answer any questions you may have.

© 2016, Speech Associates of New York – All Rights Reserved
Sources: http://www.asha.org/public/speech/development/BilingualChildren/; http://nces.ed.gov/fastfacts/display.asp?id=96; http://www.asha.org/public/speech/development/The-Advantages-of-Being-Bilingual/; http://theconversation.com/bilingual-children-lag-behind-in-language-learning-early-on-but-catch-up-by-age-five-46781



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