Does Bilingualism Cause Language Delay?

by Corey · 94 comments

One of the most consistent things I was warned about many years ago when my husband and I decided to both speak German with our swaddled babe in arms was language delay.  Everyone told me not to worry if my son didn’t start speaking until later, as bilingual children are known to start speaking later and to be a bit linguistically confused at first.  Many told me to just expect it, as if it went hand in hand: “Bilingual children start speaking later, you know.”

Here is a quote from the American Academy of Family Physicians in 1999 (my son was born in 2001):

A bilingual home environment may cause a temporary delay in the onset of both languages. The bilingual child’s comprehension of the two languages is normal for a child of the same age, however, and the child usually becomes proficient in both languages before the age of five years.

I took all of this advice at face value eight years ago.  I’d even tell family not to expect my son to start speaking any time soon since he was growing up in a bilingual environment.  I’d defend our choice to raise our son bilingually acknowledging that, “Yes, I know he will be delayed in his language initially but it sounds like he’ll catch up in time.  We aren’t worried.”  However, I was a little worried and I would head home after such a conversation feeling a little uneasy in my stomach.  What if we weren’t doing the right thing?

Luckily, I came across work from Colin Baker, a researcher in childhood bilingualism.  His research findings reassured me.  The following is a quote from his book The Care and Education of Young Bilinguals: An Introduction for Professionals, published in 2000:

Raising children bilingually is sometimes believed to cause language delay, though evidence does not support this position. Raising children bilingually neither increases nor reduces the chance of language disorder or delay.

However, it wasn’t until a few months later when my friend’s bilingual daughter started speaking early (yes, early!) that I started to really take the research to heart.  Not only did my friend’s bilingual daughter not have language delay, she started speaking ahead of the curve!

Soon after that, while hanging out and chatting with some Hispanic friends, they told me that all but one of their children (both boys and girls) had started speaking either before or around the same time as their monolingual peers.  Now I was extremely intrigued!

Here is a quote from a 2006 report at the Center for Applied Linguistics:

Although many parents believe that bilingualism results in language delay, research suggests that monolingual and bilingual children meet major language developmental milestones at similar times.

Despite the ongoing research on childhood bilingualism and researchers around the world doing their best to get the word out, the belief that language delay is a byproduct of bilingualism is still an ongoing misconception.

Articles continue to come out making this claim or cautioning parents about this “truth.”  After a great discussion on Multilingual Living about language delay and Austism, I did some Google searches and quickly came up with a list of articles from well-meaning professionals on different sites offering similar advice as this misinformed speech and language pathologist:

…if a child is experiencing a speech and language delay/disorder, then two languages may be too challenging for them. At this point, I often tell parents of bilingual homes to choose a primary language so the child can develop a good understanding and use of one language to communicate.

It is hard to blame anyone for offering this advice with respect to language delay and disorders (she is only one of many who give this advice in cyberspace), as many in the medical establishment are still teaching it.

Perhaps this myth about language delay has hung around for so long because it seems to make a kind of logical sense: Being exposed to multiple languages which each represents its own words for the same thing must cause confusion and thus a language delay in using words, right?

However, children aren’t exactly having to “learn” twice as many words, like I did in my high school French class.  They don’t have to think about which language bucket to put each word into.  Our bilingual children are picking up something more like packages of sounds that they are hearing around themselves.  They are simply putting the sounds together in the context that they hear them.  As their little brains become more complex, they start to understand concepts like words and sentences and parts of speech. Their main goal becomes making themselves understood and getting others to react to their needs and wants.

Basically what this means is that language learning is in itself a complex process (and what an amazing feat!) whether our children are doing this in one or more languages.

Here is research from the highly respected Cornell Language Acquisition Lab:

Although some parents and educators may have concerns about the potential for confusion, bilingual children do not suffer language confusion, language delay, or cognitive deficit.

Here are some things to remember:

  • Research shows that bilingual children start speaking within the same time frames as monolingual children.  Some children start speaking before we expect it to happen and others much later, regardless of the number of languages spoken in the home.  Thus, keep an eye on your children’s overall language development in general and check with a trusted speech therapist if you are concerned.
  • Bilingual children can have the same speech and cognitive disorders as monolingual children.  It is important for us to understand this.  Just because your child is bilingual doesn’t mean he or she is free from all language disorders!  If you are concerned that your child has a speech disorder, make sure to get it checked out as soon as you can.  But if you are told that you need to switch to a monolingual household, ask the therapist why this is being recommended and possibly consider getting a second opinion from a therapist who understands the role that bilingualism plays in a growing child’s life.  Ask the therapist to show you specific research which proves that switching to a monolingual household will make a significant difference in your child’s therapy success.
  • Children in a bilingual household do not need to be “taught” a language to ensure that they get it right.  Language learning itself is a complex process which your child is working through step by step based on the surrounding verbal input.  Just use your languages as much as possible with your children and their brains will do the work of putting it all together.

For an insightful discussion about bilingualism and language delay, read the Ask Madalena answer and comments to Help! Does He Have Language Delay, Autism or Neither?  If you have any concerns about your child having language delay, the discussion in the comments section of that post will be helpful!

You might also want to check out the excerpt “Will Raising My Children Bilingually Cause Language Delay?” from Foundations of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism, by Colin Baker!

 

Did anyone ever tell you that bilingualism can cause language delay?  If so, was your therapist supportive of your family’s multilingualism or were you encouraged to switch to a monolingual household?  Are you concerned that your child might have a speech or cognitive disorder currently but are worried to see a speech therapist for fear you will be told to stop raising your child bilingually?

Corey Heller is the founder of Multilingual Living and the Editor-In-Chief/Publisher of Multilingual Living Magazine. Multilingual Living is the place where she shares her knowledge about raising multilingual and multicultural children. Corey, an American, and her German husband live in Seattle where they raise and homeschool their three children, ages 13, 11 and 9, in German and English.
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{ 81 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Ana Lilian May 31, 2010 at 9:48 pm

Thank you so much for your always so informative posts. You truly are an expert in the subject and have worked so hard to inspire all of us on this amazing journey to motivate parents to raise bilingual children.
We really appreciate you linking to us in this post! Means a lot
.-= Ana Lilian´s last blog ..Bilingualism Doesn’t Cause Confusion =-.

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2 Corey June 5, 2010 at 12:08 am

Ana Lilian – it is my pleasure to be sharing this bilingual blogging space with you all! Viva multilingualism! Looking forward to staying in touch and keeping the world of languages alive with you all!

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3 glory June 8, 2010 at 4:28 pm

Viva multilingualism!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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4 Corey June 8, 2010 at 5:58 pm

Wooooohooooo! I’m right there with you! :-)

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5 Laura June 1, 2010 at 6:43 am

I found that with both my English/Dutch bilingual children they began speaking ahead of the curve yet started stringing together into sentences slightly later.

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6 Corey June 5, 2010 at 12:09 am

Interesting observation, Laura! It is fascinating how things don’t always follow a perfect sequential pattern. My first son was able to recognize letters before he was 2 yet didn’t start reading until much later. I always found that so interesting. Thank you for sharing!!

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7 Melanie June 1, 2010 at 5:29 pm

Thanks for linking to our autism article, Corey! Love your post!! xoxo
.-= Melanie´s last blog ..Is Bloomberg Building a Multilingual Mecca? =-.

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8 Corey June 5, 2010 at 12:10 am

So very honored to be in your midst, Melanie! Your support for bilingualism is just so very fabulous! I’m enjoying our joint efforts already!

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9 Kathy Krikorian June 2, 2010 at 11:18 am

Very well put, Corey! I like the balance of clearly indicating that multilingualism is not a cause of language delay AND it’s not any sort of anti-language-delay vaccination either.

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10 Corey June 5, 2010 at 12:11 am

Thank you for your comment, Kathy! I am so looking forward to learning more from YOU on speech therapy and language disorders and so much more. It is a delight to have you here to shed light on so many important issues!

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11 Isabelle June 3, 2010 at 11:49 pm

Great references Corey. My biggest evidence that bilingualism doesn’t cause delay is with my 2 children. My son had language delay due to an ear infection (not what everyone thought at the time-they thought it was the exposure of 2 languages), and my daughter at the same age is purely bilingual and speaks the 2 languages with ease. She is 3, and switches according to convenience. French to respond to French people and English to my self and other English speakers. She has shown none of the problems that her brother has shown. However, they were both exposed to bilingualism the same way. OPOL.
I am an English teacher, and I can tell you, those with 2 or more languages, in my group have NO language delay, yet a couple of other students who are monolingual have some speech problems and I have had to refer them to some specialists. It would be interesting to note studies on twins who have grown up with 2 languages, and if either had experienced language delay. I think its is important to see language acquisition like any other childhood milestone. Ex. Walking, some walk at 6 months others at 18 months. Thanks again Corey for the great insight….

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12 Corey June 5, 2010 at 12:14 am

Wonderful information, Isabelle! It is amazing how certain beliefs get spread. But so neat to hear families coming out of the woodwork sharing their different experiences – each a unique one! And for you to see it first-hand in a classroom setting! Neat!

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13 Barb June 4, 2010 at 7:57 am

Our son started speaking in sentences in French by 18 months and would say single workds in English. By age 2 he could speak both languages in sentences. Now at 2.5 yrs old he’ll translate for you if you don’t know the word :-) We were told he could be delayed but it was not the case for him. Everyone was and is supportive of us having a bilingual child. Great article. I encourage every family to teach their native tongues to their children.

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14 Corey June 5, 2010 at 12:16 am

Thank you for sharing, Barb! Isn’t it interesting how even a 2.5 year old can translate. I find that so sweet! I agree that teaching the native tongue is the way to go!

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15 Tulilintu February 15, 2013 at 4:24 pm

Our children were a little delayed. One of them even saw a speech therapist for awhile. (That one was also quiet as a baby and is shy in school now where she is the youngest. ) But as soon as they caught on to the two languages they were translating rather coherently — let us say 3.0 in this case.

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16 Charlotte June 6, 2010 at 10:03 pm

Thanks for this article. I’m an American English teacher in China. My Chinese husband and I have a 21 month old son who is only speaking a handful of words in either language and nearly every week, without fail, one of my coworkers criticizes me for attempting to raise a bilingual child. I know it’s the right thing for our family, but it gets depressing to hear them talk like this. Glad to read something so encouraging! My son’s understanding is good and I think he’s just going to be slow to start. I’ll be sure to share this article when someone starts questioning our language choices. Thanks again!

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17 Corey June 7, 2010 at 2:22 pm

Thank you for your comment, Charlotte! What a bummer to hear that you receive so much criticism. Ugh. Talk about needing to be focused and confident! Of course, if you feel concerned about your child’s language progression along the way you’ll want to get professional advice. But also question that advice if it includes getting rid of a language. I always recommend asking professionals for the research to back up claims that a family should switch to monolingualism to remedy a language problem. In the meantime, you know that you have Multilingual Living on your multilingual side!

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18 Tulilintu February 15, 2013 at 4:40 pm

Don’t be discouraged !! You have two languages at home, it is the most natural thing in the world to teach them to your children. Plus, you’ll get plenty of support for each of these languages — in two different ways — from the society around you once things shake out and your child gets a little older. And in the States too, many people are bilingual with Chinese and they do just fine.

I know it says on this blog that bilingual children aren’t slower, but ours were, and it was fine in the end. Our daughter, in particular, didn’t really take off speaking till she was around 3. Counting 21 months or 31 or whatever is an unnecessary pressure in the hands of those who are not really versed in child development.

If my father had done the same with me (another language, there in Baltimore) I’d be way ahead of the game. I was always impressed by his numerous languages, 4 of which he learned at home. But as an adult I found that my German was better than his ! Of course I was immersed in that language by that time and it was not one of his “native” ones, just something he’d studied in school, so he sounded like a rusty American even though he was not raised in the States.

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19 Carmen June 6, 2010 at 11:30 pm

Good article! As the mother of two bilingual (Swiss/High German & American English) boys with language disorders (15 year old with Expressive Language Disorder & 11 year old with severe Dyslexia), I know that their bilingualism didn’t cause it, but it sure complicates things for them. My younger son is in a special school in German for kids with language based learning disorders and 80 percent of the kids in there do not speak German at home.

Carmen near Zurich in Switzerland

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20 Corey June 7, 2010 at 2:26 pm

Thank you for your comment, Carmen! You bring up an excellent point: sometimes raising our children bilingually is a struggle for US because we are dealing with so many other concerns. The fact that you have been able to stick with it is so very commendable! Major kudos to you in every way! And I can’t even imagine how often you probably need to remind others how bilingualism is not the culprit. Please know that Multilingual Living is on your side 100% as are the readers here! In fact, your comment is certainly an inspiration to many families out there not sure if they should stick with bilingualism when their children have similar disorders as you describe above.

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21 Dr. Patrick J. Molloy June 7, 2010 at 10:37 am

I just wanted to express my appreciation to everyone that have submitted comments to Corey’s Article; not to mention expressing my appreciation to Corey as well. Working as a School Psychologist in two districts that are being transformed into primarily dual languiage environmwents – not from an administrative point of deoparture – but from the number of Hispanic families moving in to each community – it is truly beneficial to participate in the discussion available via this site – to aide me in my education and awareness of the dynamics of bilingual and trilingual communication and their affect of a child’s educational development.

I also wish to share with Carmen that I plan to be visiting my brother in Luzern in August – perhaps if time permits we might get together to discuss your 11 year old’s experience with Dyslexia, a disorder that occurs with considerable frequency with school-age children.

In any case, thanks again to all of you for sharing you comments and enabling others to benefit from your responses.

Dr. Molloy – Chelan, Washington

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22 Corey June 7, 2010 at 2:30 pm

Thank you for your comments, Dr. Molloy! It is a delight to know that articles at Multilingual Living are being read by professionals as well as families. My hope with this site (and Multilingual Living Magazine) has always been to be the bridge between all of the different influences in our multilingual lives (research, doctors, therapists, parents, children, etc.). As you indicate, the more we are aware of what is and is not unique about multilingual children, the better we can server all communities! Thank you for visiting and your support!!

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23 T.Schippers June 7, 2010 at 4:26 pm

As a bilingual SLP I actually encourage the use of both languages with children who are language delayed. I feel that it is still good to use the two languages, especially if the parents are mono-lingual Spanish and they attend English speaking schools. I would rather have parents using good strong Spanish language with their children, then try to use broken English with them and the schools often use English in the classrooms. A child with a language delay can learn two languages and I don’t feel it’s right to take away their native language, which is also taking away their culture and can create problems later on in life.

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24 Corey June 8, 2010 at 7:30 am

Thank you for this comment! It is wonderful to know that there are SLPs out there who understand the need to support this, and even encourage it! Unfortunately, stories abound from parents who were worried about their children’s language development and the first thing they were told was to stop the bilingualism. This of course starts off a whole new set of worries (wondering if the bilingualism caused it, whether they are at fault for “trying out” bilingualism on their kids, etc.). We need more SLPs like you! Thank you for sharing!

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25 Dr. Patrick J. Molloy June 8, 2010 at 9:26 am

T. Schippers – Please receive this comment from a frame of reference of Reflection.

As an SLP – we are both familiar with the expectation of Teachers and Parents whose NEED is to have an issue Defined and Labeled. This practice follows the established pattern within the Medical Model. However, in the realm of bilingual or trilingual acquisition – there is a void that ought to be left as a SPACE without the need to fill it or define it with the construct Delayed. It is unlikely that the issue is one of Delay and more likely one of Processing.

Delay has such a negative connotation to it – true it is better than Disability; nonetheless it implies that there is something undeveloped within the child or student. When in fact there is every rerason to believe that the opposite is more accurate or probable. The child or student is just as likely to be integrating the languages and as a result they respond at a slower Rate of Improvement. These students are integrating linguistic issues that are far more complex than simply becoming proficient in one language.

As I began with – these reflections are issues that I continue to struggle with in an effort to understand the students; as well as adults that i work with.

My resistance to applying the Medical Model to all such issues is that this latter model is far too rigid to allow for the following consideration which I always put to Medical Oriented Professionals.

“Are you willing to consider the possibility that reality exists external to yourself, that you know NOTHING about?”

Without such a willingness to even consider such a possibility – there is no room for the possibility of learning and accommodating Newly Realized possibilities in the realm of language acquisition or in any other realm of human endeavor.

Dr. Molloy
Chelan, Washington

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26 Elsita Astudillo June 7, 2010 at 9:46 pm

Corey, just to thank you for all the work you do for us bilingual, multilingual families!!! My son Markus is now 4 years old, born in the U.S.A his native language is English; my husband speaks English, I speak in Spanish. Despite the fact that I have almost always spoken to him in Spanish at home he speaks only English with some single intermingled Spanish words. Will he ever speak in Spanish to me? I am starting to worry about it and feel like moving to Chile for a while if I could (I am Chilean by the way:)). Thoughts?
Thanks a million!!

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27 Dr. Patrick Molloy June 7, 2010 at 11:00 pm

Elsita,

I do not believe it is necessary for you locate to another country [Chile] to provide your son an opportunity to learn and speak Spanish as well as English. Since his primary language is English and his father speaks to him primarily in English – and I am going to assume that he attends an English speaking school – it is understood that his language is English. If it is important to YOU that your son ought to be bilingual during these developmental years – you might bring it up as a discussion point with his father – and encourage him to speak Spanish to him as well occasionally. If his father is monolingual – then you might want to explore a school district in your community that has a dual-language tract. Let’s also keep in mind that your son is 4 years old, with quite a bit of time to develop a second language. Dr. Molloy

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28 Corey June 8, 2010 at 7:40 am

Thank you for sharing, Elsita! As others have mentioned here, it shouldn’t be *necessary* for you to move to Chile. Of course, I’d highly recommend that you take visits there if you can afford it! There is nothing, absolutely nothing, which can compare with being in a country where the language is spoken as everyday language (as I’m sure you know). Plus, the added benefit of it being your native country. So, I definitely encourage visits (but you probably already do that).
As for your son not wanting to speak back to you in Spanish… yea, that is a common situation. As others have said, you are in an English-speaking country and your son doesn’t see why he should need to speak to you in Spanish. So what I recommend is that you *create a need* for him to speak Spanish. Create situations where he has to speak Spanish to participate (not because you are forcing in but because it is the requirement for participation). You could find games that have to be done in Spanish, visit a community center or event where only Spanish is spoken, etc. You’ll have to be creative but I’m sure you’ll find some neat opportunities! And if your son still doesn’t want to speak Spanish with you, don’t worry. The time will come and you will be happy you stuck with it! Really!!
Encouraging your husband to speak more Spanish is also a benefit, as has been encouraged by others. This shows your son that both of you are supportive of Spanish in your home.

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29 Kara October 12, 2013 at 5:54 am

It really depends where you live. In Europe or here in Switzerland it is so natural to be bi- or multilingual. My daughter goes to a German school, the school is somehow special and private but many many children speak two or more languages there. It is a different culture here than in the US.
However, Elsita has an important point. My experience is the following. We live in an German speaking environment, the kids went to an English speaking kindergarten – my husband is American. My son spoke his first words in German, my daughter in English. They both speak with each other most of the time English. Then we went to Boston. Within half a year they didn’t answer me in German at all, back in Switzerland it took them really time to speak German again. It really takes effort that the children answer in your language. Friends are French/ German. The mother speaks all the time French, the kids speak it, but often answer in German.
I think your son needs an mono-spanish environment (at least for part of the time) to start to speak Spanish, may be a play group, a spanish kindergarten, most of all friends that he knows as Spanish speakers … Our kids devide the people up, with some they speak German with other English and they don’t change easily. As soon as a person is defined for them as a speaker of a certain language they stick to it. Sometimes mothers would like our kids to speak to their (German) children English but that usually does not work
best
kara

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30 Barb June 8, 2010 at 5:11 am

I agree with Dr. Molloy. When we first had our son we both agreed to really push the French as we live in an English community. My husband is from N.Ireland but got books and cd’s out from the Library and is pretty good at using French with our son. I think my husband is well on the way to be being bilingual himself now. He can’t do “proper” sentences but tries hard. He knows lots of words. Maybe if you can get your husband to practise his Spanish around your son (who likely knows more Spanish than he is letting on) your son would be more willing to speak it.
side note – my nephew is 2 and is in a French Speaking only family (both parents speak to him in French), he goes to a French daycare but because he lives in an English community he does understand some simple English. He can’t speak English without coaching but if you tell him to “come” , “kick the ball, stand up”…etc he does it. Their little brains are processing more than our “old” brains can.

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31 Corey June 8, 2010 at 7:42 am

Thank you for the encouraging comment, Barb! All of what you said is so true! And how fabulous that your husband has put out so much effort to use French with your son. That is so sweet. You are so right about our children’s brains processing all the time. It is amazing what they can do!

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32 Elsita June 8, 2010 at 10:18 am

Thanks so much to all of you for your advice and support!!
Yes Corey, we already travel to Chile with Markus, our last trip was for 6 weeks, and my husband is making an effort to speak to him in Spanish too, “well on his way to becoming bilingual himself.” I have DVDs and CDs in Spanish as well + books + some toys . . . yet no games, so my next task is to find some games that we can play together that require him to use his Spanish only. A dual language tract school is high in my priorities for Markus who right now attends the Merced Montessori Pre-school. Gracias mil a todas!!!

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33 Dr. Patrick J. Molloy June 8, 2010 at 1:31 pm

Elsita,

I have a brother who along with myself and two other brothers all grew up in Brooklyn, N.Y. The brother I was referring to decided as a young man, I think he was 19, to hitch-hike around the world. Since I was deeply entrenched in my own life I do not know all of the roads he traveled upon, but he eventually arrived in Sweden.

He then spent the next 40 years of his life living there. Married a Swedish woman and they raised a family. His wife primarily spoke Swedish and German; or they were her preferred languages. She spoke three others as well. By the time my brother married this gal he had been in Sweden nearly 10 years and had become proficient in Swedish. Hence, when they had a litle girl – the daughter’s primary language was Swedish.

When I began to visit my brother in Sweden in 1991, my neice was 3 years old and only spoke her native language. My brother was eager for her to learn English, but since he primarily spoke Swedish now as did his wife – and the child attended a Swedish School, learning English would not be easy with her limited exposure. I took it upon myself to ship my neice all of the Nursery Rhymes and stories I could find that were recorded in English on cassettes and would send them regularly. Over the years I am asure I shipped several hundred – Why not I was and am her God-Father.
Since that first visit in ’91, I have returned no less than 24 times. My neice is now 21, and she speaks English as well as I, as well as Swedish, German, French and all of the other Scandinavian languages – if you know one the others are close – not the same – but you can communicate.

Elsita, as I mentioned earlier your son is 4 years old and has much time to learn as many languages as he desires. Fortunately he is attenting a Montessori oriented school. Their learning modules will facilitate his assimilation of new information with ease. With your husband becoming bilingual as well – I am certain that Markus will soon be as well. It will just take time – as with everything else of value in life – time brings us that gift.

Dr. Molloy

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34 Maja January 26, 2013 at 5:04 pm

Just to let you know: The reason her English is so good is that it’s taught from early on in Northern Europe. You’re taugth English from age 10, usually. Since subtiteling is expensive and analfabetism almost non-existing, almost all movies are subtitled, not dubbed. Most popoular music is in English. This way the kids suck it all up – I learned a lot of English from tv, movies and music. Then I found out that a lot of my favorite authors weren’t translated and proceeded to read a bunch of sci-fi and fantasy. My masters thesis was also written in English (as often is the norm). The heavy exposure in Northern Europe to English leaves most of us close to bilengual…
A Scandinavian

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35 Corey June 8, 2010 at 5:56 pm

Elsita, you are definitely right on track! Your son has a mind of his own and is taking all that lovely Spanish language in. He’ll use it when he is good and ready, I’m sure. :-) In families where at least one parent is speaking the minority language all the time, I haven’t been able to see any pattern to why some kids decide to babble away in it and others decide not to. But I do know that each child is different and it is definitely not a bad thing that our children can play their own role in their (and our) language world (even though it might annoy the heck out of us!).

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36 Isabelle June 8, 2010 at 11:38 pm

Your spot on Corey on this one. It might not even be useful in some instances to use the term delay! My boy will use French on me, when its normally English just to get on my nerves. He knows very well that to me he speaks English and to daddy French. We had some English friends over once and he continually spoke French which he did because I didn’t give him something (toy or whatever it was) beforehand. My english friend said he is delayed in English, and I said no way. It was all pyschological. Children are very clever and like you said Corey, they will play their own role, even if it annoys the heck out of us! To add to Dr Molloy’s comment: (Delay has such a negative connotation to it – true it is better than Disability; nonetheless it implies that there is something undeveloped within the child or student. When in fact there is every rerason to believe that the opposite is more accurate or probable. The child or student is just as likely to be integrating the languages and as a result they respond at a slower Rate of Improvement) So the term delay, I agree is misundestood but in my example, not speaking the language is not delay but is used as a pyschological tool to make a point. I must point out I never scold if he speaks in French, but sometimes I just know he uses it in a different way.

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37 Corey June 9, 2010 at 3:18 pm

Great comment, Isabelle! I love your example with your son. My kids do the same – they can “retaliate” with their language if they want. They don’t do it much but they know they CAN. As my kids are very shy, what they do a lot is to tell me in German what they want from someone else, instead of asking themselves in English. That way, they can hide behind me and I have to do the translation into English and make the request. It drives me nuts. I’ll say, “just tell them yourself in English” but nope, they just keep saying it in German to me, knowing that the other person (1) can’t understand and respond and (2) that I will have to translate. Those little buggers. Kids can be so much smarter than we give them credit for sometimes.

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38 Marina Balina November 28, 2010 at 8:22 pm

All your comments are very interesting. But… my grandchildren are raised here in the States. Their mother is speaking Japanese to them, their father (my son) speaks Russian, so do we. The older boy (4 years old) refuses to speak any other language but Japanese, although he understands Russian. He goes to pre-school three times a week but even there he communicates in Japanese to children and adults around him. He gets frustrated when he is not understood and cries all the time. Should we limit his exposure to Russian and speak English instead?
Many thanks for comments, we really need help.
Marina

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39 Russian mommy November 29, 2010 at 8:39 pm

We have very similar situation with yours, Marina, and also all of us are very frustrated. Hope someone will share the thoughts.
We live in Japan and my son (4 years old) speaks Russian to me, and Russian is dominant. His father speaks English to him and seems that the boy has good understanding and developing his speech too. But the problem is Japanese. At the kindergarten he had to be in 100% Japanese environment, and he was not understood, or even worse, he was pushed away from playing by kids who would be very harsh and pushing towards him, so I had to take him away from the kindergarten, without his Japanese getting even slightly improved. Here in Japan it is still rare to have foreigners at the groups, and no support or at least understanding is shown. So the only option for us is to find some very expensive preschools instead (one day/week at a price of everyday care at standard ( Japanese only) kindergartens) where education is in English, or to switch to Japanese only. I guess three languages at once make the child extremely frustrated and lost, and the development is late in any language. I was wondering if there is any real specialist to help. Here in Japan there is none, or could be counselors who charge a lot but are not experienced in correcting such matters. Thanks anyone for your comments in advance.

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40 Marina Balina December 1, 2010 at 9:05 pm

Dear Russian Mommy.
It seems like there are two of us being upset and frustrated. Our situation is somewhat different since here in the States teachers are very supportive of our children. The pre-school teacher even repeats words in Japanese my grandson is using. But I am upset about his level of frustration: he wants to be understood but he says (in Japanese) that he does not want to speak Russian or English. My question is: how can we motivate him to speak languages other than Japanese? Can we really? Should we leave him alone and hope that one of those days he will understand what to do? How to prepare him for an American school? His parents decided to keep him for one more year in pre-school but send him there every day. What is the experience of other multilingual families?
Thank you for your help and advise.
Marina

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41 Karen Nemeth January 16, 2011 at 12:00 am

Such an interesting discussion. I also think there is a difference between a diagnosed language delay and a slowed down or delayed pace. Research clearly shows that growing up in a two-language environment is not going to cause a diagnosed language delay – but sometimes there may be a slower pace of language development at certain points along the child’s early years. There also may be periods of more rapid acceleration too. These are normal variations as the child focuses on different aspects of the language learning process. This position paper from the US national association for early childhood special education summarizes the key research findings that answer the questions you are discussing here. http://www.dec-sped.org/uploads/docs/about_dec/position_concept_papers/Position%20Statement_Cultural%20and%20Linguistic%20Diversity_updated_sept2010.pdf
You will be really glad you found this if you have to argue with a specialist about the value for any child to grow up bilingual! — especially the section on early interventions. Another great resource is the book Dual Language Development and Disorders (2010) by Paradis, Genesee, and Crago.

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42 Rea January 16, 2011 at 12:39 am

Language delay certainly hasn’t been our experience. Our almost two year old speaks circles around his friends of the same age, much to my chagrin and the awe of the kids’ parents, who all told me “Well, of course he will be a late speaker.” I have to admit I was happy when he starting talking, if only to shut up the neighbours.

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43 Rea January 16, 2011 at 12:56 am

Another thing….. it was finding an international group of Moms to band together as a play group that helped me trust the process and my child. The Moms speak English to each other, but their minority language to the kids, Italian, Latvian, Polish, German, etc. Seeing all the kids in their various stages and strategies, (including very clever manipulation as mentioned above) has put all of us at ease, regardless of where the kids are on the curve. It isn’t easy everywhere, but put up an ad in your local paper, on the internet, whatever it takes. Find other families to support you. You don’t all need the same minority language to form some support.

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44 Elif Doğan January 16, 2011 at 10:12 am

I’m a Turkish mother who has lived in the States for about 10 years. Married to a Turkish husband, we speak English to our kids (two boys, aged 4 years and 9 months) at our home in Istanbul, Turkey. At first we had doubts about speaking to our children in a language other than our native, but since we both are pretty good at it and since there’s always a chance that we might move back to the U.S., we wanted to give it a try. So far, so good. Our 4 year old is not fluent in both languages and the young one, well, he’s just babbling at the moment.

My older son actually started speaking EARLY. He was 9 months old when he said his first word and since then he hasn’t stopped. Who knows what our younger son will do, but so far he’s not very interested in saying anything meaningful.

So, yes, I do agree that every child takes their time when it comes to language development. They always say that boys develop language skills later than girls and that bilingualism delays speech. It hasn’t happened in our case.

Thanks for the great article. It did boost my confidence in my efforts of raising my kids bilingually.

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45 Mitsi January 16, 2011 at 9:39 pm

Dear Corey,
Thank you always for great and very positive articles on bilingualism. Your articles makes me aware and proud of creating a bilingual family.

Let me share my experience, which is slightly different from other comments, and I would like to hear your and also everyone’s opinion. My older son Ansel, 7, is a so called perfect bilingual child! I speak Japanese and my English husband always speaks English, and we live in New Zealand. He spoke both language fluently from the beginning, and he was ahead of the same age children in everything including the two languages. I remember that he showed his great sense of differentiating two languages around 1 and half yrs old. Now he is 7 and academically successful and developing his Japanese beautifully through reading as well. Great.

And here comes my second son, Miki. He is 5 now and that is when children start school in New Zealand. He always showed a slight “delay” in his English but I was not worried since I had seen his brother going on the right track 2 years ahead. Now Miki finished his first year of school (school year ends in Dec here), and he is still “behind” in English, and his school record says “below standard” in English class. As for his Japanese, he was slightly behind compared to his brother at the same age, but, after spending this past holiday season with his Japanese grandparents, he has picked up a lot and I am a lot more confident with his Japanese now.

Here is my point – yes he is bilingual and his English is behind. But I am not sure if I should call it “delayed”. Or I should be blaming his bilingual environment. One thing I feel strongly about this situation is that his English needs help and I will have to do it by giving him more exposure to English. Which means that naturally he has less time in Japanese while I try so. I am so conscious of the little exposure they get in Japanese whilst living in an English environment, so this idea will be excruciating to me. But in my heart, I know I need to do this to get him on the right track. At the end of the day, he will be living in a English speaking society, and it is very likely that he will use English as his school language and eventually will be his dominant one. Plus, his slight “delay” in English seems to have an negative affect on him on how to relate himself to his friends at school. I feel strong urge to fix that before it is too late.

I am not going to change anything about upbringing the boys in two languages. But now I am in a situation that I need to “give in” for a little while to make up for his less proficient language development. I would hate to see some professionals including Dr and teachers come to me now and say “see, your son needs a monolingual environment”. Because it is not. I would like to think I am only doing “try and error”, just like we all do in all aspects of parenting.

Sorry for such a long entry… Any comment is appreciated.

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46 aliza zak November 3, 2012 at 12:04 am

My siblings and I were raised three-lingual and they raised their children the same way. We speak English and Indonesian mostly and because we lived in Germany, naturally we speak the language, too. My youngest niece who just turned 4, loved to mix the languages when she was younger, but now she knows the difference. Her sister pronunciation were still unclear until age 4 but it turned out well itself without any therapy and she’s always make good marks. Their cousin didn’t start speaking until age 2 (my sister started to worry then) but then he started to say things and now, 18 years later, he also speaks French, Thai and Arabic. My others nieces and nephews (I have 8!) just embraced the multilingual environment they had without any problems. Every children is different, special in their own special way : some fast learner, some slower and some need help. We must recognized their problems and help them to solve it, and if they do need adjustment then we provide it.

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47 Helena August 20, 2011 at 9:36 am

Hi Corey
I just found you blog and I wonder if you can help me.
We are a portuguese family living in UK, I speak fluent english, but my husband’s english is very broken.
At home we speak english unless we are speaking to each other when we are alone.
I have a 13 years old son that was diagnosed with a language disorder at the age of 3.
My son did not speak until the age of 4 1/2 and when he started he could not produced words, just sounds. After intensive work he started to link sounds into words
and today although he can talk his speech still very disorder in syntax.
We were told by professionals that we should not teach two languages at the same time and therefore we choose english because we were living in uk.
The thing is I don’t know if that was the best choise or if we should had thought portuguese and english when he started to learn speech, specially as my husband english is not great.
When we go on holiday to portugal he is very interested to know the translation of some words to portuguese, is this a clue to me?
Should I start to teach him portuguese or is it to late at this stage? I am scared that he gets worse as his english still disordered, but sometimes I have this feeling that it may help him.
I don’t know what to do. Can you help?
Kind regards
Helena

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48 samantha November 5, 2011 at 12:05 pm

I have had a totally different experience than everyone on here.
My children only heard english until my daughter was 15months and my son was 5 months that’s when we moved to Puerto Rico and the dual languages has delayed their speech my daughter is about to turn 4 and my son just turned 3 and they don’t speak. They can say a few words or phrases but I can’t hold a conversation with then and actually my daughter speaks less than my son. I have had them checked they don’t have sign of autism its strictly the 2 languages.
I have to put them into speech therapy.

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49 Ana Paula G. Mumy November 5, 2011 at 5:41 pm

Hi Samantha – I hear your frustration and would like to help. Please contact me directly via my website contact page if you’d like. I am a trilingual speech/language pathologist and specialize in multicultural/multilingual issues.

Ana Paula G. Mumy, MS, CCC-SLP

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50 Ana Paula G. Mumy November 5, 2011 at 5:37 pm

Great discussion! For anyone desiring to read more concerning these complex issues, you will find 3 articles/newsletters that may be helpful. They are written from the perspective of a trilingual speech/language pathologist (SLP) and mother of 2 raising bilingual children. Go to http://www.thespeechstop.com/sub.php?page=bilingualism for:
1. Convergence: When Two Languages Meet (discusses simultaneous bilingual language development)
2. The Right to Bilingualism? (directed to SLPs making recommendations for monolingualism)
3. Tips for Parents Raising Bilingual Children: When the Home Language Differs from the Community Language

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51 Ana Paula G. Mumy November 3, 2012 at 8:27 am

There is a Multilingual Speech-Language Pathologist Directory available at http://www.thespeechstop.com/sub.php?page=multilingual for any of you seeking a professional who speaks your language(s). There are multiple languages represented in the directory.

Here are some thoughts for parents that I believe will encourage you. Suppose the research was silent on home language use, even then, it should go without saying that the most influential people in the lives of children with language/developmental delays are their parents and family members who love them unconditionally and who strive to give them the best quality of life despite challenges they may face.

This is why I always say, if children are experiencing language/developmental delays, I will never do away with the most important tool parents have to facilitate language, emotional, and social growth in their children – the home language!

Time and time again we hear of specialists recommending that parents stop speaking the home language to their children since the community language is the language they’ll need to be successful at school, and since after all, they have to learn to function in the community! My rebuttal, however, is, how will children learn to function in the community when they’re unable to function in their own homes? SLPs also defend their “choose one language” position by stating they are reducing the language demands placed on the child in order to promote language growth, but instead they are exacerbating the language demands placed on the child by making them unable to communicate with the most important and influential communication partners they have – their parents and family members!

Last thought, Madalena Cruz-Ferreira points out that being bilingual or multilingual does not mean equal language proficiency in all languages spoken. She says, “Each of the languages of a multilingual naturally reflects the specific uses that it serves, and each will develop accordingly, at its own pace…A less developed language of a multilingual is therefore not a symptom of a clinical condition such as ‘language delay’, but reflects instead less use of that language than of another.”

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52 Maria November 8, 2012 at 11:38 am

Nice article, but my experience tells me the opposite. In my friends’s houses were speak 2 languages at the same time, the kids are delayed. Even in my case (I speak spanish and my husband is american), our daughter is delay. I have at least 6 friends in the same situation. When at home both parents speak only one language, and out side speak other language, it’s results easier. I don’t why. Even when both parents are fluent in several languages is easier.

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53 Tore V. Stoltenberg November 12, 2012 at 11:30 am

In my own experience with a trilingual situation, the young boy had a slightly delayed development in english until he reached the age of 7 to 8 years of age. Being in french immersion school class, he caught up with the rest of the class at that stage. After that, he surpassed the others in proficiency in both english and french. In addition he learnt to speak norwegian fluently. It seems that the exposure to several languages resulted in a better unerstanding and mastering of all three!!. And the languages all “stick” 30 years later!

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54 Kim January 24, 2013 at 12:26 am

I am an American living in Japan. I have two sons, 4 1/2 and 1 1/2, and we live in a small town. We are the only native English speakers present. My older son goes to preschool here.

He’s had a rough time of it, and he’s just hitting his stride with English and has expressed frustration and confusion. On the other hand, our 1 1/2 year old is babbling in both languages and seems to be handling it with aplomb.

I recall as a child I had speech problems, some of which I have seen my older son exhibiting — problems with s-initial sounds, like “sp” and “sk”. I wonder if he isn’t having other issues as well. He speaks “trainwreck”, as I call it, currently — a collision of Japanese and English. For example, he says, “I don’t know dochi ii”, the latter words being literally Japanese for “which good” — what he means is he doesn’t know what he should be doing, what’s right to do. He didn’t start speaking more than a word or two until well after his second birthday, although he got his first word at one year old. His younger brother, on the other hand, started popping up with words at about 9-10 months and is putting words together at a year and a half.

I figured what the issue was originally was the slowdown from being exposed to two languages, but my younger son is rapidly dispelling that myth.

I don’t know what could be amiss with my older son, but I wonder if we can work it out any time soon — or if he’ll have issues in three years when he hits elementary school, and they’ll work out what’s going on then, or assume it’s because he’s bilingual. Or will he be fine by then? I went through speech therapy in elementary school.

My older son spazzes out and gets upset with me because he feels like he can’t communicate — even when I do understand him and he’s not understanding ME. I don’t know what to do.

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55 Ana Paula G. Mumy January 24, 2013 at 7:38 am

Hi Kim,

I hear your frustration. I’m a speech-language pathologist in the US and the mother of 2 bilingual children (2 and 4 years old). I’m originally from Brazil so our first language is Portuguese. I would recommend you intensify the language input you provide your older son at home. This is in essence what we would do in a therapy setting. What I mean is that you make a conscious effort to be more intentional in the language you use around him, being very verbal about EVERYTHING in all your daily routines and play activities, labeling, commenting, and narrating your day in a sense. For example, instead of just dressing him and going on to the next routine, talk through that routine, “Let’s get your clothes. Mommy is putting your shirt on. Now let’s put your pants on. Where are your shoes? Your shoes go on your feet.” and so on.

Just look at every routine and play activity as a natural way to impart LANGUAGE! I have a series of free tip sheets for parents on my website on enhancing speech and language skills through play. Please check them out at http://www.thespeechstop.com/sub.php?page=planguage. I also wrote a brief article on tips for parents raising bilingual children, available at http://www.thespeechstop.com/sub.php?page=bilingualism.

Another thing I would mention is, though I don’t know a great deal about Japanese culture, the little I’ve read leads me to think the preschool environment there would look a bit different as far as language input and interaction styles. I’ll make some generalizations here so forgive me if these don’t apply to you or your area, my only motivation is to have you evaluate his learning environment. The literature tends to show that in Asian cultures, children tend to be more “seen” than “heard”; learning tends to occur more through memorization and observation as opposed to exploration, imagination, open communication; feelings and emotions are not as openly expressed. If any of this applies, I’m not saying remove him from that preschool environment but maybe communicate to them the struggles he’s experiencing and see whether any changes can be made to provide him a language-rich environment and interactions at school. That way both the school environment and the home environment will be fostering his language growth.

As far as his difficulty with specific sounds, I’d be glad to complete an evaluation over the web (e.g., Skype, Jabber, FaceTime) if you’re interested. I can give you an analysis of all sounds in error and which ones we should be concerned about at this time based on his age. We could discuss possible continued teleservices and also strategies and activities you can use at home to help him. Just contact me directly via my website – http://www.thespeechstop.com. Sorry about the long reply!

Ana Paula G. Mumy, MS, CCC-SLP
Multilingual Speech-Language Pathologist

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56 Kim February 15, 2013 at 7:08 am

Well, after I wrote my last post, the situation started changing again.

For Christmas, my mother sent my older son a LeapPad from the U.S. Of course, it’s all in English and it books on it, etc. He LOVES to read. He went berserk with it, and we noticed a slow increase in his spoken vocabulary with it. We also started having him watch Sesame Street with Mommy or Daddy and baby brother around, trying to explain some of the stuff going on to him.

It seems to be working. His language ability is jumping rapidly again, especially in grammar. This week he’s all about asking “Can I [whatever]” and rapidly ironing out any mistakes he’s making. It’s driving his preschool teachers a little batty in that he’s decided he wants to speak English all the time again, because he’s figured it out (and told me so).

I think after he irons out more of his English grammar he may “switch” to working out Japanese. I say he’s using a lot more complex English but he’s not abandoning Japanese at all. He uses a lot of Japanese terms reflexively and interchangeably with English.

As far as the culture and environment here goes, his preschool is a very free-form environment where they encourage kids to play together, try different toys, etc. Emotions seem to be perfectly acceptable for little kids. He seems a little more parent-needy than some of the kids, but that may be because he’s got a toddler brother who takes a lot of Mommy’s time and he’s jealous.

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57 Jennifer January 24, 2013 at 9:42 am

Both of my daughters (now 3 and 4), spoke a little sooner than average. I too was told that I should expect a delay, but found that wasn’t true in our case. It’s interesting to see that it’s actually a misconception.

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58 Viv January 24, 2013 at 4:47 pm

All the comments have been truly informative and fascinating, I am reassured that many bilingual/multilingual kids have had no delay but I am also more convinced now that bilingualism has no correlation with language delay, and any delay or disorder may be linked to a combination of genes and environment. I feel for those who have kids grappling with speech delay or problems, it is also one of my latent fears.

My own son, Julien age 20 months, understands almost everything that is said to him in English, Mandarin and German. But in terms of expressive language, he can only utter Ma-ma, Ba-ba, Choo-choo (like his nickname Juju) and a series of vowels and babbles. He is an active, inquisitive, tantrum-throwing and mischief-making little boy otherwise. Despite having no speech ability, Julien understands and communicates with everyone without problem, to his Chinese family, his German family and everyone else who speaks in English. In Singapore, where almost all kids grow up bilingual and our education system is likewise bilingual, few have commented on Julien’s multilingualism delaying his speech. In fact more people tell me the reason could be because he’s a BOY, as there is wide belief that girls speak earlier. My husband and parents are unconcerned and I am the only one who worries from time to time if Julien would be delayed in his speech.

I believe that every parent would worry and have concerns about their child in any case, in spite of knowing the research and being reassured by resources like Corey’s awesome blog. And since I can’t really do anything else but wait for Julien to start speaking (everyone keeps telling me to “treasure this time” because he “won’t shut up the moment he starts”), I will have to be patient, cross my fingers and remember that all kids develop at their own pace.

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59 Helle Vind Schultz January 26, 2013 at 5:49 am

My daughter is growing up with three languages. Danish and Italian, which she speaks and English that she currently understands and can say a few words of.

However, now at 3 1/2 years old, she does mix the languages up and she doesn’t speak as well Danish as her Danish peers and doesn’t speak as well Italian as her Italian peers. I have no doubt that she’ll catch up eventually, but she is a bit delayed compared to her friends. Maybe it’s not the same for everyone, but my little girl is a textbook example for the American Academy of Family Physicians.

Maybe an absolute truth doesn’t exist?

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60 Maria March 26, 2013 at 3:10 pm

Hi, I can totally relate. My boy is 3 years and 2 months old and I do see he is delayed compared to his monolingual peers. He speaks Dutch, Spanish and English. Dutch is his adopted mother tongue but he is not profficient at it either. He has just started kinder, where he is in contact with kids his age and hopefully learn more Spanish. He mostly starts a sentence in one language and finishes in the other. Or many times he says the same sentence in a language and right after in the other. He can count, say the colours and animals and objects in all 3 languages but interaction is not yet that good and this worries me sometimes. I’m sure he will catch up later, cause he certainly makes daily progress. So from my experience I do think multilingualism can affect language development but it also depends a lot on the child.

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61 Zanne January 30, 2013 at 11:13 pm

Thanks for a really Great Article. A pleasure to read about others people experience.

Got 2 daughters now at age 7 & 8 years. both 4-Lingual. Speaking
Danish, Dutch English and Greek. My oldest Daughter was a bit delayed and the youngest was early speaking. So I guess it all depended on the child.
I would say there mother tongue is Danish ( as am I) but the 3 other Languishes they use with out even thinking about it, and they are very good in keeping them apart.
In our home we all speak in the daily life Danish, Dutch & English. Greek they learned in Nursery school when they where 2 years old and now primary school. They are doing very well at School as well with the Greek Languish.
Theire little heads may need time (Can’t blame them!can you?) but yes it is possible for them to learn 2 or more languishes, they earlier the better i think.
And not to forget it’s a great gift to get from your childhood.

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62 Mom of trilingual February 13, 2013 at 11:59 pm

I came across this article because I was looking for “Language delay for multilinguals” on the net. It is a very interesting subject! We have a 2.5 yrs. old who we educate in 3 languages (2 languages at home + English in the Daycare here in USA). She shows no delay in English as compared to other (monolingual) kids in her daycare classroom. I was surprised to learn about her great progress and now I found this wonderful article showing that indeed we should not expect any language delay!

English is our kid’s dominant language but we practice OPOL at home with the other 2 languages. (“No-English-at home” policy, at least for parents.)

I do not think that it is fair to test “language delay” on her less dominant languages. She certainly uses English words in her conversations in other languages. Our kid spends 8 hours a day at the daycare, and only a small fraction of the day with us at home. Yet a strict OPOL at home helps – she feels comfortable when family members or friends who do not know English talk to her in her other 2 languages (although she occasionally tries to respond in English, she’s still too young to distinguish completely).

However, if we would now immerse our 2.5 yrs. old kid into a 100% Russian environment (Russian is her 2nd language) she would be very comfortable. Besides, only then it would be possible to test her speech advancement in Russian (vs. monolingual Russian kids) – I guess that within only 2 months (or less) she would catch-up completely with an average monolingual Russian kid her age. It’s just a matter of a fine-tuning and polishing !

I think that the definition of “language delay” should be addressed separately for all of the kid’s languages in proportion to the time that the kid is exposed to each language during the day. It’s just a matter of comparing apples-to-apples.

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63 Natalya March 18, 2013 at 8:22 am

Hello there ! I was browsing on internet how to prepare child for french immersion and i found this article . I am looking for people who has already gone through french immersion program and having russian language at home and english only from community and playgrounds . My daughter is 4 e.o. now and she is showing interest for languages . English is my second language , so I can not teach her proper english , but her father is speaking english to her (born in Canada) . I always expose my daughter to all 3 languages (cartoons, music, books ) and I am afraid that she might not have enough of english for University if she will go to french immersion . Is anyone there that has the same situation ? or any advise ? I do not speak french either , but i always wanted to learn this language and I am learning how to read in french as well .And to add: my daughter started playing in english though – but her russian is very strong still . Also she is singing few songs in french and started countinh till 10 . I am only for french , but what about english for future ?is it gonna be very poor for future ? Hope to hear from someone !!!

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64 Divya March 18, 2013 at 12:03 pm

My 2.5 year old daughter speaks 2 languages – one of the Indian language Tulu and English – with ease. She was at home for 2 years and started part time daycare then. It took her less than 2 months to talk English, much more than all other English speaking kids at her class. Still she continued to speak our language at home. I truly believe that, if a particular person always speaks the same language to them, there will never be confusion in their amazing little brain!

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65 Sneha March 18, 2013 at 12:11 pm

My 2.5 year old daughter speaks 2 languages – one of the Indian language and English – with ease. She was at home for 2 years and started part time daycare then. It took her less than 2 months to talk English, much more than all other English speaking kids at her class (as per teacher’s observation). Still she continued to speak our language at home. I truly believe that, if a particular person always speaks the same language to them, there will never be confusion in their amazing little brain! I know couple more languages, which I am not planning to teach her soon. surprisingly she asks me when i talk those languages to few of my friends. and she already knows that i speak different languages to those certain friends!! The post is very informative,and encouraging for bringing up bilingual kids.

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66 Jose April 1, 2013 at 6:28 am

I need Help.

Our little boy will be 3 in July and he’s just saying some words. He seems to understand everything in spanish and english and does as he’s told (again in both languages). But he’s not putting sentences together.

My wife is from the US and I am from Central America. She knows spanish at an acceptable level and she speaks spanish to him. I also speak spanish to him, however, we speak english to him outside the house. He goes to pre-school three times a week where they speak english. When he’s on play dates, he also listens to english. We try to put the TV in spanish when he watches.

My question is this. Should my wife speak english to him and I spanish to him, or what we are doing now is ok?

We are starting to get worried that he’s not putting sentences together and can see his frustration when he wants something. Our county provides a speech therapist that comes once a week for about an hour to work with him, and she says that everything is fine and we should continue what we are doing.

But we are still worried. Are we doing something wrong? Should we both speak in spanish to him and english outside, or should one parent speak an individual language to him?

PLEASE HELP !!!

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67 stephanie June 29, 2013 at 5:48 pm

i have the exact same problem. My son is turning 3 in July, I am from SouthAmerica and my husband is from United States. My son tho would only speak in English but is hard for him to form sentences He does understands Spanish AND English when we talk to him. He just can’t put sentences together.

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68 Ana Paula G. Mumy April 1, 2013 at 6:48 am

Jose – as a speech-language pathologist, we always recommend that parents speak to their children in the language they speak BEST since the parent’s dominant language is normally the language where quality language input can be provided with confidence and ease. I have written several articles in English and Spanish that may be helpful to you, available at http://thespeechstop.com/sub.php?page=may-i

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69 Ericka April 2, 2013 at 1:13 am

Dear all,
I found this article because I was looking for language delay in bilingual children.
My daughter is 3 years old, at home we speak Spanish to her, she attends a Dutch speaking school but at day-care she was being addressed in both French and Dutch (we live in Belgium). While she understand everything in Spanish and a lot in Dutch, she is not capable to form sentences furthermore she has a very limited vocabulary in both Spanish and Dutch.
I have been asking to her pediatrician for a year and half now and all the time she continuos to say that she just need time but I’m starting to believe that she needs more than just time.
should we take her to a speech therapist?
does anyone has experience with a logopedist in Belgium?
thanks for your feedback

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70 Ana Paula G. Mumy April 2, 2013 at 8:10 am

Ericka – the general rule of thumb is that a child needs about 50 words in their vocabulary before they begin forming sentences. Bilingual children sometimes do lag behind a bit in their vocabulary development in comparison to monolingual children, however, there are other areas we can look at to determine if concern is warranted. I have a brief video on my YouTube channel on this topic, available at http://www.youtube.com/thespeechstop entitled “Differentiating Between Late Talkers and Language Disorders in Children.”

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71 Petra May 13, 2013 at 11:23 pm

When my son started nursery at 18 months our insisting on raising him multilingual and also teaching him sign language was frowned upon a lot. We were told he will not want to speak if we sign with him, and he will be delayed anyway because of his multilingualism. Interestingly enough, he was the first one to start talking in his group of monolingual children. And even though it is not tightly connected to the multilingualism, he was the only one pronouncing all the sounds (in all the languages) without problems.

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72 Sonja May 13, 2013 at 11:24 pm

I read all these mothers worried about 3 years old children with speech delay…. This articles is old and one, there are not serious researches about the topic. I have a 3and half y.o. son with the same problems. I have started being worried when he was 1. No way, a mother can recognize better than others when her child has problems. I read all the articles and researches about speech delay in multilingual children. I was suggested to wait my son was 3 to go to a therapist . It is late, I suggest start earlier with logopedist. Therapist suggests so, because he/she has no certain idea why bilingual children delay. In this process I met so many worried mothers with bilingual children with speech delay that it can’t be a coincidence. And when it is not only delay doctors call it dispraxia/apraxia. Just to give the problem a name. Doctors tell you to wait because they haven’t the experience, the tools, the researches to give a serious diagnosis. When your child starts the neuropsychiatric process, she needs several months tobe diagnosed, and after that she needs years of speech therapy. I’m not saying not raising children bilingually. I do say to pay attention to any delay and start early with therapy even if inexperienced doctors say differently. Still the doubt why somany bilingual children have speech delay remains. And waiting to start the process when my son was 3 means he will start a serious therapy when he’ll be 5!!!! When other children and teachers will consider him having a handicap.

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73 stephanie June 29, 2013 at 5:41 pm

Very interesting!!. I am from South america, Spanish is my first language and my husband is an American (he doesn’t know a word in spanish).
We have an almost 3 year old son and my husband speaks only in english to my son and I speak in spanish and english. Everybody at the gym, friends tells me he has a delay.
I hear 3 years old talking whole sentences in English. But again all i think is: well they might started speaking earlier, but my son is learning two languages at the same time and not one. (that keeps me motivated and not worried about his speech delay). He only speaks English but he understands Spanish and English.

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74 Natalya June 29, 2013 at 7:59 pm

Hi Stephanie . I am watching any information on Internet about multilingual kids and comparing skills with my daughter – how she develops and how she is able to use languages . I speak to her only Russian and her father English and she is 4,5 e.o. now but fluent in both :English and Russian . She started her first words in English and then added Russian and there ups and downs are with proportions in her vocabulary . Now its 70% Russian and 30%English (before was 60% English and 40% Russian ) and she plays in both languages, but now dominant English. She started very good and I had switched her back and force to both languages . Your son is not delay because of two languages , but because he is a boy and if he is not very active boy , he will be later with full development in speech , but understanding in both just fine . Statistic is like that : active kids are talk earlier and less active are observing longer and then catching up by age 5-6 ) . You have to work a bit on English just for his own benefits for school start and then give him extra lessons ( reading helps a lot ) in Spanish . He has base and you need to focus on English now and let him sing a songs in English .That is how i did with my daughter . By age 4 she was fully bilingual but her Russian friends her age are not speaking English at all and have difficulties at school (JK-SK ). Their parents was telling me that I am confusing he r, but now it pays off ! she is bilingual and has no problems to communicate in both languages . We started French because she loves sound of this language and I did the same thing – we are watching cartoons in French and singing along with karaoke version of French songs and CD with French music (for children and adults ! ) . At this age kids love to sing and explore new sounds ! I started piano lessons and vocal just to train her hearing and ability to divide sounds and rhythm that helps to learn better language . I am trilingual (Russian , Ukrainian and English ) and now learning French along with my daughter and I see that kids are learn much easier and faster then adults :) . I think you may look at your son`s favourite songs and find it in English and Spanish and learn with him together and he will start put sentences together faster . Kids needs to hear and repeat what they hear -other wise their brain develops little different .He might be very good at math but like to observe instead of being talkative machine ! :) All the best ! Hiope it helped :)

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75 Stephanie June 29, 2013 at 8:27 pm

Thanks for your reply!. Yes he is actually good at math, numbers, colors and he is very organized when it comes with colors and sizes. He obeys and listens more than talking. He understands spanish and english but again he is
Not talking in sentences. The longest sentences is 4 words: I want to sleep, i want to eat, mama water please, cookie( our dog) you bad boy cookie.
And thats pretty much it. He knows all the colors he knows how to count to 20, he knows the alphabet. All in English. I just would love for him to talk more.
He is turning 3 on July 22nd. Is he going to improve by December? Any methods
you apply to your kids?. Should i just speak to him in spanish and my husband in english. ?

Thanks
I will try to listen more to cds.
Thanks again

Stephanie

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76 Natalya June 29, 2013 at 8:48 pm

I think you have to give him a credit for being good at math :) my daughter does not count till 20 in non of lthe anguage and she is 4,5 ! … she is not good at math and it concept but she talks non stop all day along :) I am a teacher by education and I now that kid`s brain develops in different fazes . I relaxed about math as I know that she will be better at different subjects (I was like that ) . Left or right part of brain develops more -it was NEVER two together ! linguistic person never good at math and opposite ! Your son might pay more attention to details that will help him to be better at math then some girl ,as my daughter, who started speak earlier and in two languages . If he is healthy and alert – then you have to just relax and enjoy what he does already but always give information to your child as his brain develops now in extreme speed ! make him to pronounce what he hear and expose to classic music already and some musical instruments for kids ( drum , little kids piano ) – music is a good foundation to speech development . You of course have to help him to hear more english and sing only in english now – when he will be at school then do opposite : more Spanish from you and let school do it job ! He has 2 years before real school and English surrounding will help him to learn it but you will keep Spanish too as a home language (if you are not enrolling him in Saturday school for learning Spanish deeper ). I did enroll my daughet to Saturday Russian school to learn more then just a home language . French immersion will be next year . So, I pray that she will keep her Russian long enough to talk to her own kids ! Good luck !

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77 Jana - www.bilingvni-vychova.com September 15, 2013 at 3:00 pm

Hi and thank you for this great article. I started a Czech website about bilingual/multilingual upbringing and this question often pops up. Information on this subject is scarce in the Czech language and what does exists can be quite deluded, unfortunately… That was one of the reasons I, as a parent of two bilingual kids, created a website specifically for Czech families. The trouble is my visitors think I am an expert when in fact I’m just a mum who wants to share her experiences and get other people talking and helping one another. But I am slowly becoming an expert :-) All the best. Jana

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78 Shaun el profe September 26, 2013 at 5:15 pm

Thank you for this article! I was born in the USA to parents from Trinidad and Tobago (UK based English and spellings, Metric system, and hundreds of left over words from the days of Spanish then French rule). Being that Venezuela is 7 miles away, we have a kinship with Spanish language, including the capital being called Port of Spain. I was reading by 3 due to bookworm parents and as result by first grade was placed in a Spanish class one hour a day that school year. Program was cancelled but my love of words domestic and foreign continued. Fast forward to 24 yrs old and I caught the language bug, studied at home and volunteered teaching esl. 10 days in a Spanish speaking island had me feeling confident my work was paying off and convinced me I could learn to fluency and I packed up and moved. A year later still there, I had opened my own esl classes up and began teaching basic Spanish on suggestion of other expats who loved my passion for it. 3 yrs later I returned to NY able to fool people due to my obsession with going for a good accent. That was 2008.
I promised I would use my teaching skills to make my offspring better than I ever would be.
I met my son’s mother who is born american with parents Liberian (African) and Costa Rican, but only understands the african bassa language (100% but cannot respond at all) and her dad only spoke to her in English (his part of Costa Rica are caribbean decendents of Canal workers, they speak an English patois close to Jamaican and they speak perfect CR Spanish). This meant that I was teaching my girlfriend and over time she has become proficient in writing it and putting it together, but shy to speak to anyone. Embarrassed almost. We had a happy baby boy July 2012 and like I said I always planned on teaching my child my acquired tongue, especially since its strong, my circle of friends speak it, my sis in law is from the island I lived in and I visit my own neighbors there like family. I also have since become family like with my costa rican “in laws” via visits there. So though I’m not Hispanic i have authentic places and relationships for my son to visit, in addition to Trinidad.
Due to circumstance we had to live apart since he was 6 months and this is where it has become tough. While she blesses his sneezes in spanish and generally attempts small sentences, some bedtime stories he gets some input. But the daily conversing I would do, the cartoons, music, he is not getting.
My question is should I tell her to increase her Spanish toward him or just keep going as it is. Currently seeing him 2 or 3 times a week only and he is 14 months. At 6 months clap and applauso meant the same thing. Now, baila/dance, pasamelo/pass it to me, dont touch/no toque etc are the kinds of things he understands. I say the phrases back to back. Might it be better to stick to the Spanish only and leave the English for mommy?
Thanks in advance.

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79 Ana Paula G. Mumy September 26, 2013 at 8:01 pm

Shaun – it’s difficult to dictate to a person which language they should speak since that is largely dependent on that person’s motivation and their level of comfort and confidence in the target language. As a speech-language specialist and mother of bilingual children, I normally recommend that parents speak the language they feel most comfortable and confident speaking, or what feels most natural. Below is an excerpt from my parent guide “Practical Bilingualism: A Concise and Simple Guide for Parents Raising Bilingual Children” (http://thespeechstop.com/index.php?page=bilingualism).

“The general rule of thumb is that parents should speak to their children in the language they know and speak best. Children need good models of language, and a parent’s vocabulary, grammar skills, and ease of communication usually remain stronger in their native language. It’s also very difficult to deeply share your heart in a language in which you are not dominant or confident. In order to communicate love and affection, to instruct, to communicate beliefs and opinions, to correct and discipline, to instill character and values, to praise and encourage, to express humor, to share sorrows and disappointments, to share victories and joy, one must be able to dominate the language in which all of these are communicated. Another good question to ask yourself is, “In which language can I most effectively and naturally play with my child?”

I hope this is helpful to you!

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80 Tatiana Asakura September 28, 2013 at 2:24 am

Let me share with you something that may be the source of common belief about ” language delay” in bilingual children.
Recently my daughter , who is 7 yo now was tested by Dutch speech therapist extencively. Our problem is that the girl ” won’ t demonstrate” the language abilities and is believed to have a delay by native- speaking Dutch, Japanese and Russian .
The fact is – she has developed an early selective control with strict OPOL method, and needs time to give a proper reply. Its a selective process they call ” dysfatic development”. When the productive speech is delayed compared to receptive understanding by approximately 6 months ( or more)
When the kid searches for word , mumbling ” well, how is it, its THAT thing…”
When auditional task is performed worse than expected, but there is a perfect visual memory and attention to detailes in writing obviously present.

This phenomenon is described by bilingualism researchers and is believed to ease later, when the prefrontal lobe segments of brain develop completely, from 11 to 18 years.
It is hard for kid to select a proper structure for sequenced story and a suitable set of words , so the general recommendation for my daughter’s teachers has been simple and clear.

1 always compare her passive tests ( multiple choice) result with active ( nominative) tests. Passive score higher.
2 deal with on- command problem.
Spontaneous speech is easier and richer than on- command request.
Sometimes the kid may not find the reply in the on- command situation, but shows it in spontaneous speech. So, provide help with beginning of reply and suggest a logical chain of reasoning, or an algorythm of retell, or plan of discourse: what to tell first about, what will be next, and how it will all end.
This kid will tend to skip the details and jump from one point to the other missing the logical link. Help with a visual aid to arrange detailed and properly linked discourse.
Script the situation of reply, make it less unexpected.
Begin the reasoning and let the kid finish it. Let from 5 to 10 minutes to prepare for the task: what is expected to be said and in which sequence.
Use as mush as possible multiple choice situations, asking the kid to reason properly her choice.

And you will see the ” delay” disappearing.

In different logopedic cultures this small but very irritating problem is accessed differently. Russian call it ” lack of algorythm thinking”, Dutch call it ” dysfatische ontwikkeling”, Japanese ignore it and suggest more exercise.
It does not really matter how they call it, there is a working corrective scheme which helps the kid sort the languages and feel more comfortable in her monolingual environment.

What I see a real problem, is an early accessment and selection of kids , the use of grading as pedagogical instrument. Be damned those schools and teachers who do it and mark our kids with ” language= intellectual delay”

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81 Laura October 29, 2013 at 11:06 am

Hi, Corey!
Thank you for the article. It helped me a lot in a paper I’m writing for college about SLA. I’ve chosen that topic because I have four cousins who grew up learning two or more languages at once. Two of them had to move a lot to several different countries, and the other two (they’re from two different uncles and aunts) moved to the US when they were very young (we’re brazilian) – and all of them always spoke portuguese at home. None of them had any delay neither difficulties to learn anything. They’re all great speakers of all languages they know. I’ve started studying english when I was 12 and had no difficulties, too.

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