Some myths many parents have about bilingualism in children in relation to having speech delays

My name is Patricia Rhodes and I am a bilingual speech-language pathologist at Miami Speech Institute. We’ll be explaining what its normal and what is not in bilingual children in relation with speech delays.

What is normal?  It is normal for kids to acquire language from the years of two to four years old.  A bilingual child may acquire language at a slower rate than a monolingual child, however, the rate of language acquirement is not an indicator of speech delay.  Monolingual children may acquire words faster due to the fact that there is only one language.  However, bilingual children have a faster way of transferring language from one situation to another and they also know double the vocabulary words.  They know the words in both languages and they can distinguish which language to speak to which parent.

Recommendations for bilingual children

  • Continue to speak both languages in the home. There is not good evidence that shows that you should only speak one language, in fact, research suggests that this should not be the case.
  • Each parent should always speak in the same language to the child. For example, if the mom speaks Spanish and the father speaks English, then the mom should always speak Spanish to the child and the father always speak English. Switching between languages from parent to parent is not recommended.
  • Code switching is normal and is not considered speech delay. This is like using “Spanglish”–filling in a word in a different language than the language one is speaking.  This may occur if the child can’t remember the word in the language they are speaking or they want to use the word in another language because it expresses what they are trying to say in a better format.  Code switching is not considered to be a speech delay and is a naturally occurring phenomenon in bilingual children.  Adults also commonly code switch and it’s an accepted way of speaking.

Is it normal for bilingual children to experience speech delays?

Bilingual children can experience speech delays just like any other child.  But just because your child is bilingual does not mean they will have speech delays.  There is a distinction being having a speech delay and being bilingual. However, do not ignore a speech delay attributing this to the child being bilingual.

Speech delay can be defined as the child not expressing himself or herself correctly with a certain number of counted words by a given age.  Being bilingual doesn’t mean that children speak less but they may acquire words at a slower rate.

What is normal for a bilingual child?

Bilingual children usually acquire the same amount of words except they acquire these in two formats in two different languages.  They are usually able to be more cognitively adept to switching between languages and it has been proven that most children that can switch from language to language have better cognitive abilities for certain skills in their adult lives.   Bilingual children know double the amount of words and double the grammar that they need to know to express themselves so being bilingual is definitely a plus and we discourage speaking only one language in the house.

What is not normal for bilingual children?

Bilingual children should not have a deficit in vocabulary words.  They should say the same amount of utterances at the same age as monolingual children.  For example, a two year old should be able to put two words together, whether they are bilingual or not, even if one word is in one language and the other word is in another language – this is considered within normal limits.

At Miami Speech Institute we would like to ask you to share our video. Join us, call us and subscribe.  Talk to your friends and family and doctors.  If you have any questions regarding bilingualism or speech delays we would be glad to help you.  Thank you for watching.

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