Growing up exposed to and speaking more than one language is a reality for many children and families in Canada. Aside from the cultural and social benefits that come with being bilingual, research also shows that growing up bilingual, or learning another language later on, has positive effects on brain function that last a lifetime. No one learns two languages in exactly the same way and many factors come into play when a child is exposed to multiple languages. These factors include how they are exposed to the languages (e.g., learning them at the same versus one after the other), how often each language is spoken, and the context in which each language is spoken. Naturally, this leads to questions about learning multiple languages and its effect on development:
What does language development look like for a child learning more than one language?
Bilingual children generally progress through the same speech and language milestones (first words, combining words, etc.) at the same rate as children who are learning one language if they are given enough exposure and enough practice to use each language. You might also see some of the following patterns when a second language is introduced:
An initial temporary “quiet” period (a few weeks to about 6 months), where the child seems not to talk as much or as often as before
Mixing words or phrases from the two languages together when speaking
Grammar mistakes in either or both languages, or using the grammar structure or word order of one language while speaking in the other
Knowing or having vocabulary for a situation or item in one language but not another
These are all signs that your child is working to learn their new language and are not signs of a language delay.
But what if my child does have a language delay?
We know that introducing a second language does not cause a language delay, or increase language difficulties that are already there. Research shows that children with a language delay who are given enough exposure and practice in both languages are able to become fluent in both languages and the difficulties they have are equal to those of a child with a language delay who is learning only one language. Our job as Speech-Language Pathologists is to support development in all the languages a child is exposed to, and to help parents support their child’s language development in the language they feel most comfortable speaking.
I have more questions! Where can I get more information?
As always, if you have any questions/concerns, or suspect that your child may be behind in his/her skill development, please reach out to us at Aurora Speech Clinic. You can also find more information here:
A Short Guide to Raising Children Bilingually
Bilingualism in Young Children: Separating Fact from Fiction
Can Children With Language Impairments Learn Two Languages
When Children Speak More Than One Language
Registered (Bilingual) Speech-Language Pathologist
Aurora Speech Clinic
* The information in this blog post was gathered from the above-linked sources