Why learning two (or three, or four) languages is great for everyone and any ability!
Learning more than one language will cause a language delay.
Learning two or more languages at a young age will NOT cause a language delay/disorder. This was a popular opinion in the 1970s that still persists today, especially in regard to children who are deaf or hard of hearing.
If a true delay exists, it will be present in both languages. If Ethan’s mother speaks Spanish with him and considers that his first or native language (L1), and his father speaks English, and Ethan has a true language delay, we will see delays in both Spanish (L1) and English (L2).
Our child has a language delay so we should speak to him only in one language. He can learn the native language of our family when he is older.
Children with language disorders can become bilingual. This includes children with Autism, Down Syndrome, Deaf/ Hard of Hearing, Everyone! Dual language exposure will not cause or make the delay more severe. Ensure that the child is receiving sufficient exposure in both languages and speak to your child in the language that you are most comfortable.
Babies and children have the ability to learn multiple languages at a very young age, in fact, much more easily than us adults! The ability to acquire a language in a native manner is particularly available to us before the age of 7. And while it’s not completely a myth that your child can learn later in life, it will probably impact their fluency and will definitely limit their communication with family members in the here and now.
Strategies to use to help children learn their second language (L2)
- Ensure sufficient exposure to the L2
- Use shorter and grammatically simple sentences
- Make important words stand out
- Slow down when speaking
- Use simple, everyday vocabulary
- Use gestures
- Talk about the here and now
- Repeat, repeat, repeat
When to contact a speech-language pathologist:
If you have concerns for your bilingual child’s language development, we recommend you consult with a speech-language pathologist who is trained in assessment and intervention in bilingual language learners. Of concern is a simultaneous learner (a child learning two languages at the same time before age 1 (up to age 3)) showing delays in both languages and a sequential learner (a child learning a 2nd language after age 3) who has an observed or reported delay in their first language.