speech language delays

Bilingualism & Speech-Language Delays

By: Amanda DeAngelis, MA CCC-SLP
Bilingual Speech Language Pathologist

Q: If my child has a speech or language delay, should I only speak one language so I don’t confuse him?

 A: No. Exposing any child to more than one language at a time will not confuse them. It can make them that much more able to process information. 

Key points!

  • PEOPLE: It is suggested that specific people keep to a specific language. So if Mom’s native language is Spanish and Dad’s native language is English, then each parent could keep to their native language.


  • NATIVE EXPOSURE: Try to speak to your child in your native language and/or the language you feel most comfortable in so they have the best example of the language possible.  So if Mom’s native language is Spanish and Dad’s native language is English, then each parent could keep to their native language. The ability to acquire a language in a native manner is particularly available to us before the age of 7.


  • LANGUAGE: Bilingual children with delays can adapt more than we give them credit for and are often able to sort out which language is used when. It just may take some extra time for us to see this result.


  • FAMILY: If a child has a language delay and seems to have a difficult time acquiring language, down the road, you might regret not giving your child the opportunity to speak to a large part of their family. The issue of the possibility of “confusion” is a myth. There are plenty of individuals who have learned to speak more than one language even with an underlying disorder.


  • MULTIPLE WORDS:Exposure to two languages in a simultaneous fashion will often lead to a child having two words for one object. For example, they may see a dog and know to call it a “dog” or a “perro” depending on their audience. They quickly learn to code switch so that they can speak to different people. Sometimes bilingual children take a little longer to speak their first words, but this is not always cause for alarm. However, if you are concerned or suspect that your child may be delayed, it is advised that you consult with a licensed speech language pathologist to rule out any underlying difficulties that could be impacting your child.


  • TESTING:A bilingual child tested on monolingual norms-based standardized tests will often appear behind their peers. Yet, their vocabularies are increasing at a similar rate and are just not able to be measured the same by a monolingual test.