By: Jennifer Penaranda, M.A., CCC-SLP
If your child seems delayed in their speech and language skills, or has received a diagnosis such as Autism Spectrum Disorder, it is only natural to be concerned about the type and level of language input they are receiving. For kids with limited language, we are often concerned that too much input, or input in two or more languages, might be confusing and impede their progress. Research in this area has grown substantially over the past several years and the conclusions are surprising.
What are the benefits to teaching my child two languages?
- Improved communication with friends and family
- Increased participation in cultural/community events
- Improved language, social language, and pragmatic skills
- Cross-linguistic transfer, or the ability to use the skills learned from one language towards the development of the other
What does current research say?
Increasing research in the field is changing long held beliefs regarding childrens’ language acquisition. Here are just a few examples:
- Children with Down Syndrome who speak two languages score as well as children with the same diagnosis speaking just one language on English tests.1
- Children diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) who speak two languages demonstrate similar abilities to children with ASD speaking just one language.2
- Bilingual children with language delays learned English vocabulary faster when it was first taught in their native language than students taught vocabulary in English alone.3
What if my child seems to be struggling?
It is easy to get concerned if your child appears to be falling behind their peers, or seems to lack vocabulary in either English or their home language. Keep in mind that differences in the development of the two languages are normal, and may even out over time.
Is learning two languages going to confuse my child? Evidence from multiple studies demonstrates that children with and without language impairments are capable of becoming bilingual, and demonstrate skills at the same level as their monolingual peers.4
What if my child is mixing vocabulary from their languages in sentences? Individuals speaking two or more languages, both with and without disabilities, frequently engage in a behavior called code-switching, in which vocabulary words from one language may be included in a sentence that is in the other language. This is a normal process. Code mixing may be the result of a child “borrowing” a word from their other language that has no translation equivalent, that they have not had experience yet using in one language, or because or the context of the situation. 4
My child can’t pronounce words correctly in either language, is this a problem?
Even typically developing children as old as 7 years may demonstrate patterns of sound errors. These error patterns will be present across languages if similar sounds exist in both languages. If these issues persist late into childhood and interfere with your child’s ability to be understood by friends, family, teachers, and peers, it may be helpful to consult a Speech-Language Pathologist.
What can I do at home?
- Engage in early literacy activities with your child in their first language, such as shared book reading.5
- Use the first language consistently with your child at home.6
- Model longer and more descriptive sentences in the first language.6
- Promote utilizing the home language in multiple environments through visits with family/friends who speak the language, watching television programs in the first language, and visiting community centers where the first language is widely spoken. 6
- Bird, E. K., Cleave, P., Trudeau, N., Thordardottir, E., Sutton, A., & Thorpe, A. (2005). The Language Abilities of Bilingual Children With Down Syndrome. American Journal of Speech-Language Pathology, 14(3), 187-199. doi:10.1044/1058-0360(2005/019)
- Reetzke, R., Zou, X., Sheng, L., & Katsos, N. (2015). Communicative Development in Bilingually Exposed Chinese Children With Autism Spectrum Disorders. Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research, 58(3), 813-825. doi:10.1044/2015_jslhr-l-13-0258
- Perozzi, J. A., & Sanchez, M. L. (1992). The Effect of Instruction in L1 on Receptive Acquisition of L2 for Bilingual Children With Language Delay. Language, Speech, and Hearing Services in Schools, 23(4), 348-352. doi:10.1044/0161-1461.2304.348
- Guiberson, M. (2013). Bilingual Myth-Busters Series Language Confusion in Bilingual Children. Perspectives on Communication Disorders and Sciences in Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Populations, 20(1), 5. doi:10.1044/cds20.1.5
- Ijalba, E. (2011, March 24). Early literacy support in the Home Language for emergent bilingual children and their families [Web log post]. Retrieved from https://blog.asha.org/2011/03/24/early-literacy-support-in-the-home-language-for-emergent-bilingual-children-and-their-families/
- Mumy, A. G. (2012, August 16). Tips for Parents Raising Bilingual Children: When the Home Language Differs from the Community Language [Web log post]. Retrieved from https://blog.asha.org/2012/08/16/tips-for-parents-raising-bilingual-children-when-the-home-language-differs-from-the-community-language/
- Paradis, J., Genesee, F., & Crago, M. B. (2011). Dual Language Development & Disorders. Baltimore, MD: Paul H Brookes.
- (2016). Retrieved August 4, 2019, from http://frenchlanguagek12.org/sites/default/files/styles/full/public/658dfdd313ef2ba356c12785b72a794c.jpg?itok=VDI2pLex
- (n.d.). Retrieved April 4, 2019, from https://www.omaha.com/livewellnebraska/health/kids-with-and-without-disabilities-learn-together-at-westside-preschool/article_018b1ba3-c67f-5bf0-9507-8a0578dde5d7.html