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Does Raising Your Child to Be Bilingual Cause Speech Delay?



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Does raising your child to speak more than one language cause speech delay?


This is one of the most common concerns raised by parents who wish to raise their children to be bilingual/ trilingual/ multilingual.


One of my viewers on YouTube raised this specific point in her comment on one of my videos – she really wants to raise her child to be trilingual but is finding it hard, as she’s worried about her child having a speech delay.


In this blog post and the YouTube video, I aim to dispel this common myth once and for all, and offer some practical tips and advice to support your child's language development!





Is there a connection between bilingualism and speech delay?

 

One of the most persistent myths surrounding bilingualism is the notion that it can lead to language delay.


However, this is simply not true!




 

Don’t take my word for it – the case against this persistent myth is backed up by plenty of scientific research.


Just to give you one example, a research paper titled “Bilingualism and language development in children”, published in 2012 by Ellen Bialystok and Fergus Craik, among others, summarises research findings on bilingual language development.


The paper emphasises that bilingualism does NOT cause language delay or confusion; in fact, according to this paper, bilingual children typically achieve language milestones on par with monolingual children.


Vocabulary size and the phenomenon of "language dispersion"


While bilingual children may initially mix languages or exhibit a smaller vocabulary in each language compared to monolingual children, this is a natural part of the language-learning process and does not indicate a delay.

 

The vocabulary size of bilingual children can vary depending on various factors, such as their exposure to each language, the quality of language input, and individual characteristics.


Generally, bilingual children may initially have a smaller vocabulary size in each of their languages compared to monolingual children in a single language.


This phenomenon is known as "vocabulary dispersion” – imagine a child’s total vocabulary being dispersed across several languages.

 

Research suggests that bilingual children often distribute their total lexicon across their languages.



Bilingual children often distribute their total vocabulary across their languages - this phenomenon is known as "vocabulary dispersion"; does bilingualism cause speech delay?
Bilingual children often distribute their total vocabulary across their languages - this phenomenon is known as "vocabulary dispersion"


For instance, if a monolingual child knows 1000 words in their native language, a bilingual child may know 500 words in each of their two languages. As a result, it may appear that bilingual children have a smaller vocabulary in each language when compared to monolingual peers.

 

However, over time and with consistent exposure to both languages, bilingual children typically catch up and may even surpass monolingual children in overall vocabulary size, according to a book by Ellen Bialystok titled Bilingualism in Development: Language, Literacy, and Cognition.

 

In addition, bilingual children often have a deeper understanding of language structure and semantics, as they have to navigate between two linguistic systems constantly. They also tend to have a more extensive semantic network, allowing them to connect words across languages.




Bilingual children tend to have a more extensive semantic network, allowing them to connect words across languages; raising bilingual children; speech delay
Bilingual children tend to have a more extensive semantic network, allowing them to connect words across languages

 

Other benefits of bilingualism

 

Furthermore, research suggests that bilingualism offers a wide range of cognitive, social, and cultural benefits.


Bilingual children have been found to exhibit:


  • Enhanced problem-solving skills

  • Better multitasking abilities

  • Improved perspective-taking capabilities.

 

I’ve made two other videos exploring the various benefits of being fluent in more than one language, so definitely check them out if you want to find out more!






Practical Tips For Nurturing Your Child's Language Development

 

Now that we’ve debunked this number one myth about bilingual parenting, let me offer some tips on how to support your child’s language development!

 

TIP NUMBER 1: Monitor Language Development

 

Although bilingual children are no more likely to experience language delay than their monolingual peers, it might be a good idea to keep track of your child's language milestones so that you can seek professional guidance if you do have concerns about their language development.

 

Every individual child is different, but here is a general timeline of language development milestones for bilingual children:


A Reference Timeline of Language Milestones for Bilingual Children


Language milestones for bilingual children: from birth to 6 months; 6 to 12 months; 12 to 18 months
Language milestones for bilingual children: from birth to 6 months; 6 to 12 months; 12 to 18 months

Language milestones for bilingual children: from 18 to 24 months; from 2 to 3 years
Language milestones for bilingual children: from 18 to 24 months; from 2 to 3 years

 


Language milestones for bilingual children: from 3 to 5 years; 5 years and beyond
Language milestones for bilingual children: from 3 to 5 years; 5 years and beyond

From birth to 6 months:

   - Your baby should begin to recognise the sounds of the languages they are exposed to.

   - They should start babbling, producing sounds from both languages equally.

 

Between 6 to 12 months:

   - Your baby should understand simple words and phrases in both languages.

   - They may begin to produce their first words in one or both languages.

 

From 12 to 18 months:

- Your toddler typically starts acquiring more words in both languages.

- They may start combining words from both languages to form short phrases.

- They should be able to understand basic instructions and simple questions in both languages.

 

From 18 to 24 months:

- Your toddler’s vocabulary will continue to expand. They may have several dozen words in each language.

- They begin to use two-word combinations more frequently in both languages.

- They understand more complex instructions and questions in both languages.

 

From 2 to 3 years:

 - Language development accelerates; children may have hundreds of words in their vocabulary in each language.

 - They begin to use more complex sentences and express themselves more fluently in both languages.

 - They demonstrate awareness of language differences and may use one language more dominantly than the other, depending on the context.

 

From 3 to 5 years:

- Your child should demonstrate proficiency in both languages, with a more extensive vocabulary and grammatical structures.

- Your child should be able to switch between languages comfortably depending on the situation and the person they’re speaking to.

 

5 years and beyond:

- Your child’s language skills should continue to develop, with increasing fluency, accuracy, and complexity in both languages.

- Depending on exposure and context, bilingual children may exhibit some variation in language abilities between the two languages.

 


TIP NUMBER 2: Be Consistent

 

Establish clear language routines and be consistent in your language use at home.


You should have a language strategy in place – to find out more, watch my video on this very topic to help you decide on the right strategy for your family!




 

Once you’ve decided which strategy to adopt, apply it consistently.


For example, if you use One Parent One Language, try to really stick to it because NOT doing so is what might confuse your child!




 

 

TIP NUMBER 3: Create a Language-Rich Environment

 

As I’ve reiterated time and again in my book and other videos, the key to successfully raising bilingual children consists of a simple formula, namely:


EXPOSURE + NEED

 

To support your child’s language development and prevent speech delays, try to surround your child with opportunities to hear and use both languages in everyday contexts. You want to maximise your child’s exposure to the target language as much as possible.



Surround your child with opportunities to hear and use their target languages in everyday contexts; raising bilingual children and babies
Surround your child with opportunities to hear and use their target languages in everyday contexts

 

In practical terms, you can try the following things to create a language-rich environment for your child to maximise their language exposure:

 

  • Labelling objects around the house

  • Reading books together

  • Singing nursery rhymes

  • Engaging in conversations in your target languages


Incorporate language into your everyday life - reading together is an excellent way to create a language-rich environment when raising bilingual children
Incorporate language into your everyday life - reading together is an excellent way to create a language-rich environment when raising bilingual children


Basically, anything that will create language input and maximise your child’s language's exposure!

 

TIP NUMBER 4: Encourage Language Interaction

 

Encourage your child to interact with speakers of both languages, whether it's family members, friends, or community members.


Language exposure from a variety of sources enriches vocabulary and language skills.


Using the target language outside of your child’s immediate family will also make the language feel more relevant to your child.

 

Immersion and celebrating cultural traditions are also super helpful in making a language come to life – check out my latest video or blog post on how we celebrated Chinese New Year and why traditional celebrations are so crucial!




 

TIP NUMBER 5:  Foster Positive Attitudes

 

Emphasise the value and importance of being bilingual or multilingual to your child.


Celebrate linguistic diversity and instil pride in their ability to speak multiple languages.


Find positive role models that they can relate to.



Find inspiring role models who speak more than one language that your child can relate to
Find inspiring role models who speak more than one language that your child can relate to


Are there any famous YouTubers who are bilingual, for example?

 

I’ve written a blog post with a list of bilingual celebrities, which may give you some inspiration – the link is in the description box below, so definitely check it out!

 

Summary

 

I hope today’s post has helped alleviate some of your potential concerns about language delay when raising your child to be fluent in more than one language.

 

To sum up:


  • There is no reason to fear that raising your child to speak more than one language will cause speech delay.


  • While your child may have a smaller vocabulary initially, they are most likely to catch up or even surpass their monolingual peers with time.


  • Meanwhile, your child will reap all the benefits that bilingualism can bring, ranging from better problem-solving skills to improved multitasking abilities.


So, don't let the fear of speech delay stop you from helping your child reach their full potential!


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