Common Questions About Bilingualism

By: Joanna Nasiadka, M.S., CCC-SLP

Speech-Language Therapy strengthens children’s communication and feeding skills so they can participate fully in daily activities and achieve success. Easterseals DuPage & Fox Valley therapists have numerous years of experience in typical and atypical speech and language development and offer a fun and engaging environment for children to learn and develop their skills. We also have a number of therapists fluent in several language such as Polish (myself), Korean and Tagalog. There are often questions shared about raising a bilingual child and I wanted to discuss the many benefits and what to look for if you suspect a speech delay below.

Q1: Does bilingualism mean my child is equally proficient in two languages?

Being bilingual does not mean that the child has equal proficiency in both languages. It is common for children to have a dominant language. Children can also have a dominant language for specific contexts. For example, a child might speak English at school and communicate most effectively in English when the context is academics but might prefer to talk in their family’s native language while talking about a sport, religion, or while talking to their family members. The dominance of language fluctuates depending on the amount and nature of exposure. There are two types of bilingualism:

Simultaneous Bilingualism:

This type of bilingualism is the acquisition of 2 languages at the same time, typically before age 3.​ Early language milestones are met in typical time and manner in both languages.​

Sequential Bilingualism:

This type of bilingualism occurs when the second language is introduced AFTER 3 years old.

Photo by Stan Kedziorski-Carr

Q2: Will my child be confused if we use two languages at home?

Many studies on bilingualism have shown that using two languages does not confuse a child, even when they are young and learning two languages simultaneously.

Q3: What if my child has a language delay or disorder?

There is no evidence that using two languages confuses a typically developing child OR a child with a disability. Bilingualism can actually be beneficial for children who have disabilities, and it allows them to be active participants in their daily activities. It also allows them to have full social-emotional growth since it will enable them to communicate with family members and friends who have a shared language and culture.

Q4: Will bilingualism cause my child to have a language delay or academic difficulties? Will he or she be behind other kids?

Bilingualism does not cause language delay or disorders in children. It also does not exacerbate delays or disorders that are already present. If a child presents a disorder in one language, they will have the disorder in the second language as well. If the difficulties only arise in one language, this could be a sign of limited language proficiency.

Bilingual children develop language similarly to their monolingual peers. However, bilingual children may have lower proficiency in one of the languages until they catch up to fluent speakers.

  • Average time to achieve social proficiency (conversations, social interactions): 2-3 years
  • Average time to reach academic proficiency:  5-7 years
Photo by August de Richelieu on Pexels.com

Q5: What are some pros and cons of raising a bilingual speaker?

Q6: What is the best way to support two languages? Should I wait for my child to be proficient in one language before introducing a second one?

Photo by Alex Green on Pexels.com

The best time for a child to learn two languages to be proficient is before 3. Younger children are more likely to develop a natural accent, more likely to become proficient and achieve higher syntax levels in the long run. Therefore, there is no need to wait for your child to learn one language before introducing a new one.

Many families have found success in speaking both languages at home. Other families prefer to speak both languages and spend time reading, writing, or doing activities in each language. A very effective way to help a child learn both languages is to have one caregiver speak one language and a second caregiver speaks the other language. This choice depends on the family dynamic and your preferences.

Q7: My child started to mix the two languages together in the same sentences. Is this normal?

Using both languages or alternating between languages in the same utterance or conversation is very common for bilingual speakers and is called code-switching. Competent bilingual speakers often code-switch for many reasons, including using a word that is not present in the other language, quoting ideas, emphasizing, excluding others from conversation, showing status, or adding authority. Code-switching can happen more in certain cultures and contexts.

Code-switching does require rules to be done appropriately:

  1. Must follow the grammatical structure of both languages
  2. The word order has to make sense
Photo by Julie Hermes

Q8: How will a speech-language pathologist evaluate and treat my bilingual child with a language disorder or delay?

A speech-language therapist can help determine a speech-language disorder from a limited language proficiency by considering the sound and language rules of both languages that your child speaks. Your therapist will administer evidence-based methods of testing that are adjusted for your child’s needs as a bilingual speaker. These tests include speech-language samples, writing samples, play-based observations and assessments, standardized measures (if appropriate and adjusted), and assessments of ability to learn new skills. If your child benefits from services, treatment will focus on improving speech and language skills while supporting both languages.

Take our Free Developmental Screening

If you are concerned about your child’s language or other development, take our free online developmental screening tool for children birth to age five. The Ages and Stages Questionnaire (ASQ) will showcase your child’s developmental milestones while uncovering any potential delays. Learn more at askeasterseals.com. 

To learn more about Speech Language services at Easterseals DuPage & Fox Valley, call us at 630.282.2022.

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