Multilingual Family: Read This Before You Call the Speech-Language Therapist!

by Corey · 0 comments

Multilingual Children: Speech-Language Therapist

When it comes to raising bilingual and multilingual children, we are often hypersensitive to our children’s language development. Who wouldn’t be! We compare our children’s language mastery with other children around us. We compare notes with other parents. We worry when our child hasn’t said those first words and we then worry when our child doesn’t seem to know as many words as the neighbor child who was born six months later!

Worry is not good. But healthy common sense and observation is.

If we feel that our child’s speech or language development isn’t quite where it should be, then let your child’s pediatrician know. The worst you can do is worry yourself into a frenzy or hold off based on the anecdotal evidence from well-meaning friends, family and neighbors who tell you things like, “Bilingual children always start speaking late, so don’t worry about it.” Or, “Bilingual children always pronounce that letter wrong. It will work itself out on its own.”

Maybe it will, maybe it won’t. At the very least, consider getting a second opinion from your child’s pediatrician or a speech-language specialist. It is best to have a solid arsenal of expert opinions before making any major decisions. You don’t have to act on anything, just build up your base of knowledge so that you can make solid decisions.

We often forget that multilingual children’s speech and language development follows the same range of milestones as monolingual children. What this means is that some bilingual and multilingual children start speaking earlier, some later and most somewhere in between. It is a myth that they will all start speaking later.

Fear of the Speech-Language Therapist

The difficulty for parents of bilingual and multilingual children is that many speech-language therapists tend to not understand the unique needs of multilingual children. They forget that multilingual children are not just two monolinguals put together in a little package and tied with a lovely little bow.

When it comes to language development, bilingual and multilingual children are developing their language differently from monolingual children. This isn’t a bad thing. In fact, research is showing just how wonderful this difference really is, especially for the brain. However, it is different.

On top of the language differences, bilingual and multilingual families have their own unique mix of cultural and social norms which they want to keep alive in their families. If a speech-language therapist insists that the family stop using one language, at least one parent’s entire cultural identity is being brushed aside. This can have unforeseen implications down the road which may cause long-term crises.

For these reasons (and uncounted others), many bilingual and multilingual families avoid the speech-language therapist like the plague. Who wouldn’t! The fear of confrontation with a speech-language therapist who seems unaware of, or downright antagonistic toward, bilingualism in families can cause us to run for the hills.

Be Prepared

If your child does need speech or language therapy, the answer is not to avoid the speech-language therapist. If your bilingual or multilingual child needs help, then the worst you can do is to simply avoid the situation. You don’t want to get overly concerned and jump the gun but you also don’t want to pretend that nothing is wrong.

Instead, do your research ahead of time and arrive at the speech-language therapist’s office prepared. Print out research articles that show that speech-language problems are not caused by bilingualism or multilingualism. Point the speech-language therapist to articles on the Multilingual Living website that discuss this very topic.

Who knows, you may even help educate your child’s speech-language therapist!

The Decisions Are in Your Hands

It is possible that your child’s speech-language therapist may encourage you to focus on one language for a while, simply because it may help with the therapy. This is a decision you will have to make based on your own family’s make-up and the degree of your child’s therapy needs. Don’t enter into this decision lightly!

Even though bilingualism and multilingualism do not cause speech-language problems, it doesn’t automatically mean that focusing on one language for the duration of the therapy isn’t a possible choice for your family. It may help your child focus on specific language or speech issues by isolating them within one language. However, make sure that you child’s speech-language therapist understands the negative impact this may have.

Make sure to discuss what effect this may have on your family’s linguistic and cultural framework now and in the future!

These are the kinds of difficult decisions that we have to make as parents and no one can tell us exactly what the outcome will be. If you switch to one language, will your child ultimately stop speaking the other language(s)? Maybe, maybe not. Only you can decide. If you use one language for the duration of the therapy, will this negatively impact your family’s rhythm and closeness? Maybe, maybe not. Only you can know this.

Talk about this with your spouse, your child’s speeh-language therapist and anyone else who can help provide insight and suggestions! Remember: You are your child’s parent. You know your child best!

Before You Call the Therapist {INFOGRAPHIC}

Before you call the speech-language therapist, read this infographic that we put together for you. It is packed with tips to prepare you and suggestions for you to think about. It originally appeared in Multilingual Living Magazine, so if you like it, you might want to check out the other articles in Multilingual Living Magazine to get even more information like this!

Please feel free to print out this infographic so that you can give it to others. Pass it on to your child’s pediatrician, teachers and family members. You are also welcome to share it via your social media outlets. The more we spread the word, the better for multilingual children everywhere!

CLICK HERE to download the infographic (in PDF format) – or click on the main image at the top of this post.

Remember that in the end, you know your child best. Have faith that you will figure it all out each step of the way with the help of family, friends and experts.

DISCLAIMER: The information in this post and on this website has been provided for informational and entertainment purposes only and is not intended to replace or substitute any professional financial, medical, legal, or other advice. Multilingual Living makes no representations or warranties and expressly disclaims any and all liability concerning any treatment or action by any person following the information offered or provided within or through the information and advice listed in this post or website. If you have specific concerns or a situation in which you require professional or medical advice, you should consult with an appropriately trained and qualified specialist. Please read our Terms of Use for more detail or contact us with any questions.

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