Is my child's language delayed because we speak too many languages?

It is commonly believed that children who learn more than one language start speaking later. This has not been shown by research. Bilingual children and monolingual children learn language at similar rates. Both groups say their first words between 9- and 14-months, use two-word combinations between 17- and 26-months, learn a vocabulary of 50 words by 2-years, and hold simple conversations by 3-years of age.

Children who learn two languages at the same time often know specific vocabulary only in one language. They may switching back and forth between two languages in one conversation, or even in the same sentence. These are normal behaviors for bilingual children and are not signs of confusion. It is easy to underestimate a bilingual child's language ability when the child's skills are only assessed in one language. Doing so misses the child's skills in the other language, so only a part of the child's abilities are being recognized.


Can my child learn two languages if he/she has a language disorder?

Around the world, most people use more than one language or dialect to get through a typical day. Many children, even those who have communication disabilities, have been observed to learn more than one language. They include children diagnosed with specific language impairment, Down syndrome, autism spectrum disorders, and intellectual disabilities, among others. These reports show that children with a variety of communication challenges can and do learn to use more than one language to different degrees.


My child has a language disorder. Will learning two languages make it worse?

Research comparing the language abilities of monolingual and bilingual children with Specific Language Impairment and Down Syndrome show that they are similar in the degree and types of language difficulties they display. Other findings show that children with language impairment acquire language more effectively when they are first taught in their strongest language. For example, one study showed that children who spoke Spanish as their dominant language learned English words faster when those words were first explained to them in Spanish.

If we don't speak English at home, will my child have a hard time communicating when he gets to school?

Children who learn English for the first time when they enter school or early intervention face the challenge of having to learn a new set of communication skills in addition to getting used to a new learning environment. Though this may seem like a daunting task, it is not an unusual situation, especially in a multicultural society such as that of the United States. Attending school in an unfamiliar language does not have to cause problems for the child academically, developmentally, socially, or emotionally. Children who receive the appropriate supports from their teachers can make this transition very successfully.


In conclusion, there is no evidence that bilingualism has negative effects on the language outcome of children with language disorders. In addition, language teaching through the use of two languages, especially with emphasis on a child's stronger language, may help both languages develop more quickly. More importantly, there are many social and emotional benefits that can result from learning the languages important to the family and the community.

Whether your child is developing language in a typical or unique manner, the question of whether you should speak one or two languages is less important than how to create the most language-rich environment. Communication should be meaningful and enjoyable for the whole family.

Video Discussion on Bilingualism and Children with Special Needs

Brenda K. Gorman, PH.D and John Consalvi, CEO of Lingua Health and Grupo Lingua, M.A. CCC-SLP, discuss the research supporting bilingualism for special needs children as well the importance of maintaining a family's native language and goals for bilingualism. (From GrupoLingua,



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