If My Child Is Bilingual, Will That Cause a Language Delay?

This is one of the most common questions I have been asked by parents as a Speech-Language Pathologist.  Many parents these days are teaching their children two languages.  These languages include Spanish, and Baby Sign (though this isn’t really a second language, but that’s a whole other post!), and many others.  Good for them!  Teaching a child a second language has many benefits, with higher IQ and larger vocabulary among them.  But does bilingualism cause a language delay?  ABSOLUTELY NOT!  I can’t emphasize this enough.  Bilingualism actually improves your child’s language skills over the long-term.  Initially, while the child is learning both languages, it may seem as if the child is a few months behind in their language development when looking at each individual language.  However, if you look at a bilingual child’s vocabulary collectively, bilingual children actually have a larger vocabulary than their monolingual peers.

Bilingualism is often blamed when a bilingual child develops a language disorder.  The fact is, the development of a language disorder has nothing to do with being bilingual.  If a child is going to develop a language disorder, they will do so whether they are bilingual or not.  Language delays are caused by problems with the development of a child’s language center in their brain.  Bilingualism has no adverse affect on this development.

Now, there is one exception to this rule.  When I speak of bilingualism, it is with the assumption that the child is either learning both languages simultaneously, or becomes fluent in one language and is then introduced to another.  However, if a child is taught one language, and then that language is dropped and switched for another language, this can potentially cause language problems.  The reason for this is that the child was switched from one language to another without establishing a solid language base in their first language. 

So go ahead, have no fear, and teach your child a second language!  It’s good for them, and you’ll be glad you did.

Until next time,

Aersta Acerson

A Utah Speech Therapist


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