Ask François Grosjean: What Should Parents Do When Their Bilingual Child Has Been Diagnosed With a Language Disorder?

by Corey · 7 comments

While Prof. Emeritus François Grosjean was working on his wonderful book Bilingual: Life and Reality, he asked me to send him a list of questions that I felt weighed the heaviest on the minds of parents raising multilingual children. It is my honor to present both my questions and Prof. Grosjean’s answers here at Multilingual Living over the course of the next few weeks.

This the tenth of the eleven Q & A which originally appeared in The Bilingual Family Newsletter, one of my favorite publications for families raising children in more than one language (in addition to our own Multilingual Living Magazine, of course)! After each of of Prof. Grosjean’s answers you will find a list of the specific chapters from Bilingual: Life and Reality in which he addresses each question.

What should parents do when their children have been diagnosed with a speech impediment and they are told that their bilingualism / multilingualism is the cause?  Should they go against what the speech therapist / school therapist may say and continue speaking a native language at home?

Bilingualism researcher and speech therapist, Susanne Döpke, states clearly that bilingualism is not the cause of language delay and language disorders. She insists that discontinuing the home language is not going to improve the bilingual child’s abilities in the majority (school) language; on the contrary, it may have other prejudicial consequences.

It is a widespread and erroneous idea, still conveyed by some professionals, that things will improve if parents revert to just one language.  In fact, no change should take place in the language ecology of the family since retracting a language will not improve the disorder.

We also know that in children with specific language impairment (SLI), the deficit pattern in monolingual and bilingual children is the same.

Since there is no empirical support for what some professionals propose, that is to stop speaking one of the languages (usually the home language), parents who are bringing up their child bilingual should continue to do so.

This said, it is crucial that they adopt a well-established family strategy, that they be aware of the factors that will enhance bilingualism, and that they receive a lot of support from their family, friends as well as the professionals involved with their children, such as educators and language pathologists.

Relevant chapters in Bilingual: Life and Reality which address this question: chapter 14, 17 & 18.

Past Ask François Grosjean Q&A in the series:

  1. The first in the series is Ask François Grosjean: Are My Bilingual Children Getting Enough Exposure?
  2. The second in the series is Ask François Grosjean: What is the best method for helping children become bilingual?
  3. The third in the series is Ask François Grosjean: Can I Change From One Language Or Method To Another?
  4. The fourth in the series is Ask François Grosjean: What Does Research Say About the Benefits of Multilingualism?
  5. The fifth in the series is Ask François Grosjean: Is It OK for Parents to Raise Bilingual Children in a Non-Native Language?
  6. The sixth in the series is Ask François Grosjean: What are the golden rules that bilingual families should follow?
  7. The seventh in the series is Ask François Grosjean: Is just a little bit of language exposure with a bilingual child worth it?
  8. The eighth in the series is Ask François Grosjean: What About More Than Two Languages in a Multilingual Family?
  9. The ninth in the series is Ask François Grosjean: What Happens When Bilingual Children Start Going to School in the Community Language?

François Grosjean, the author of Bilingual: Life and Reality, received his degrees up to the Doctorat d'Etat from the University of Paris, France. He started his academic career at the University of Paris 8 and then left for the United-States in 1974 where he taught and did research in psycholinguistics at Northeastern University, Boston. While at Northeastern he was also a Research Affiliate at the Speech Communication Laboratory at MIT. In 1987, he was appointed professor at Neuchâtel University, Switzerland, where he founded the Language and Speech Processing Laboratory. He has lectured occasionally at the Universities of Basel, Zurich and Oxford. In 1998, he cofounded Bilingualism: Language and Cognition (Cambridge University Press). Visit his website at: and his Psychology Today blog, Life as a bilingual, at:

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{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Tina August 2, 2010 at 5:40 am

Four years ago we were told by our pediatrician that our son’s speech delay was caused by our raising him bilingually, and we were advised to drop one language for the time being. Once our son was talking in one language, it would be okay to add the second language again.
That suggestion didn’t sit right with us, and we decided to go against our pediatrician’s suggestion – and I am so glad we did! Now he is almost six and speaks German and English fluently, and no one can tell any more that he once was “speech delayed”.


2 Corey August 16, 2010 at 11:00 pm

It is truly amazing how often this advice is given! So very sad. Thank you so much for sharing this comment – there are so many families out there who will benefit from your experience with your son! And congratulations for (1) sticking to what your intuition told you and (2) that your son is a fluent bilingual!


3 Dan August 2, 2010 at 8:17 pm

Whaaaaat. I’m flabbergasted that anyone still thinks this! I spend a lot of my time in Montréal, Canada, where *most* people are French-English bilingual and obviously have no speech impediment in either language. The things people will believe…


4 Corey August 16, 2010 at 11:03 pm

I know, I know, Dan. It is amazing and so very sad. To think of how many families end up dropping a language and losing out on the wonderful opportunity to continue with bilingualism while at the same time dealing with language disorders.

What is so amazing is how long a myth can continue to live on, even when new research proves it false. Thank you so much for sharing your disbelief and experiences in Canada! It reminds us that other countries are doing just fine with multiple languages.


5 Seb April 4, 2013 at 5:34 pm

Considering the amount of monolingual children diagnosed with speech/language disorders, it’s diabolical that anybody can suggest that bilingualism could be the cause. If that were the case, no monolingual children would have speech impediments!

Perhaps we need to have a look at who is being employed as a speech therapist. If they can’t even be bothered to stay up to date with the latest research on linguistics and bilingualism (things like code-switching for example) then what right do they have to label themselves as “experts”?

Great post, Corey.

Keep up the hard work.


6 Marina June 2, 2017 at 5:11 am

I am very much confused. My chiled is trilingual. Born in Brazil, for the first 19 months he lived in a Portuguease speaking country. Between 14 months and 19 months he went to a portuguease speaking kindergarten. At home, dather speaks english, mother russian. Between each other English. At 19th months old we moved to Poland. Our son didnt speak any language at that point. He went to a Polish daycare and was silent until 2,5 years old. Today he is 4, he understands everything in 3 languages and speaks poorly only in Polish. He speaks only simple sentenences and often it is difficult to understand when he is trying to explain something. We have been seen by a logopedist which said possible dyslexia, and psychiatrist who said selective mutism. My son is extremely shy and doesnt speak in new surroindings or new people. I keep being told to drop the third langiage (Russian) and speak to him in Polish. He realizes I speak Polish and outside in a polish speaking social setting I do speak to him in polish but at home I use only Russian with him. Please help, the specialists keep telling me I am not helping to overcome his anxiety addign the extra language:(


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