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Ask A Speechie – Will speaking different languages to my child delay their speech? Should I only speak in English?

November 2, 2018
Ask A Speechie – Will speaking different languages to my child delay their speech? Should I only speak in English?

This month’s Ask A Speechie question is answered by Speech Pathologist Lisa Pellegrini

Question: Will speaking different languages to my child delay their speech? Should I only speak in English?

A common misconception is that if a child is raised as bilingual their language development will be delayed as they are “confused” by learning multiple languages. In actual fact, bilingual children can develop language at the same rate as children who learn only one language. All children acquire language at different rates, however bilingualism is not a factor for delayed or disordered language. There are two different types of bilinguals: simultaneous bilinguals are children who acquire two languages by the age of three, and sequential bilinguals are children who learn a second language after the first language is well established (generally after three years of age). There are many benefits to raising bilingual children. Research has shown it is linked to better academic results, improved communication among family members, and a fostering of cultural identify and belonging.

Parents are often advised to use a one-parent one-language approach to avoid the child becoming “confused”. Research has shown that this is frequently unfeasible, as parents may use both their languages interchangeably.  It is also unnecessary, as children are able to identify which language is appropriate for different conversational partners, topics or situations from approximately two years of age.  For example, a child will learn that they need to speak Italian to their grandmother but English to their kinder teacher. Another erroneous yet persistent belief is that bilingual children who present with language delay or developmental delay should only be exposed to one language in order to prevent difficulties with their language acquisition. However evidence shows us it is best practice to maintain both languages and there is no disadvantage in doing so.

The take home, evidence-based advice I give all my bilingual families is that parents should use the language in which they are most proficient, as to give their child as much exposure to grammatically correct language as possible.  Children should receive this exposure of language in natural, everyday situations, such as during play and social interactions, in order to have the best opportunity to acquire language.

If you would like any further information about bilingualism and language acquisition, please contact the team at reception and ask to speak to a Speech Pathologist.