Will Our Daughter Experience Language Delay When We Move to Another Country?

by Corey · 2 comments

My family and I are moving to Santiago, Chile in November of this year. We will be down there for 2 to 4 years.  We are moving because my husband got a transfer opportunity within his company. He is pretty fluent in Spanish and his family is from Argentina. I know some basics but I am not fluent by any means. We have an 8 month daughter. She will be just turning 1 when we arrive.

I am concerned about language delays because all she has heard is English and then in a matter of a 9 hour flight, she will hear only Spanish.

Thanks so much,

Dear Stephanie,

When your family land in Santiago, your daughter will not founder in a world that is alien to her, and she will not start hearing only Spanish. Neither will you. The family is moving, which means that your ways and your language will be travelling with you.

You don’t need to prepare your daughter in any way for your move. It is likely that she will spontaneously learn Spanish in Chile, without any intervention on your part. She will naturally make friends while you are there, and naturally use their languages, whether English or Spanish. Children become aware of their surroundings and of themselves from around age 3, so she won’t notice that she will be learning a new language, just like she has no idea that she is already learning something called ‘English’.

Having contact with a new language does not delay language acquisition. Language delay is a clinical condition which affects monolinguals and multilinguals alike, and which therefore has nothing to do with the number of languages that one is exposed to.

You are not alone: your situation matches the experience of countless expatriate families worldwide. Just relax, enjoy your new country, and watch your child enjoying it. She will adapt to her new environment with no problem at all. Moving country will be a great opportunity to expose her to a different culture, and you may even come to realise that your daughter will be the one teaching you how to feel at home in different languages and different cultures.

Do feel free to contact me privately, if you wish to discuss these matters in greater detail.


Madalena Cruz-Ferreira, PhD, University of Manchester, UK, is a multilingual parent, educator and scholar, and the author of Multilinguals are...?, a book on myths and misconceptions about multilingualism. Her blog Being Multilingual deals with multilingualism at home, in school and in clinic. Her contact, and details on her work, are at: beingmultilingual.com.

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