Bilingualism – should I speak only English with my speech delayed child?
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Bilingualism – should I speak only English with my speech delayed child?

Introduction

Bilingualism is a beautiful aspect of our diverse world. Growing up in a bi- or multi-lingual household is a wonderful gift, allowing children to communicate with a broader range of people and access many cultures.

My own two children grew up in a bilingual German-English speaking household. They have both been so enriched by this experience, not only language- and learning-wise but of course also culturally: their world has always been so open and colourful. Growing up in inner London and having their German family and mum’s friends as well, this has been a wonderful experience. Both my boys speak German well (not quite like native speakers but like very good second language speakers) and both have very easily learned 3rd and 4th languages additionally when in secondary school.

Whilst bilingualism has untold benefits, it’s not uncommon for bilingual children to take slightly longer to reach certain speech milestones. This should not be automatically mistaken for speech disorders but rather seen as a natural part of bilingual language development.

Bilingualism and speech delays

Sometimes, of course, we do see speech delays or disorders where a child’s speech development lags significantly behind their peers. We often see a delay in both languages equally, making it extra hard for to communicate effectively. BUT PLEASE KNOW the family speaking in multi-lingual languages never caused the delay/disorder!

If there is a delay or a disorder any number of other reasons could have caused it, such as:

  • hearing impairments,
  • reduced phonological awareness,
  • sensory processing issues,
  • reduced attention and reduced joint attention,
  • neuro-developmental delays or difficulties,
  • general or specific learning difficulties
  • or sometimes other genetic factors.

So, to say that the difficulty is due to a child being exposed to several languages is a red herring. (no offence to herrings!)

Speech therapy

Speech therapy can be powerful to help bilingual /multilingual children with speech delays unlock their full linguistic potential. By providing individualised assessments, targeted interventions, and involving families, speech therapy can bridge the gap between speech delays and bilingualism. It’s essential for the therapist and parents to work together to support the children in their unique linguistic journeys, helping them communicate effectively and thrive in both of their languages.

Happy Islamic family sitting on the floor
Image by Freepik

Speak your home language at home

Many parents report that they worry about speaking their home language at home and instead they have been focusing on just speaking English at home. They now rarely use their home language with their child. They fear that speaking a language other than English with their child will cause further delay and hinder their progress. All parents want the best for their child and often parents fear that their child won’t fit in or will be seen as ‘different’. So we can understand why parents feel that the English language is the only one worth having.

But the opposite is the case: it is crucial to speak in both languages freely, both at home and outside the home! Both languages will benefit your child, no matter what the delay or difficulty is. Acquiring a ‘mother tongue’ or native language is absolutely vital for children to have a good, solid linguistic grounding on which to build other languages. Bilingual children may mix languages during speaking and parents may equally mix their languages. This does not hinder language development and is a natural part of linguistic development.

Speak freely and naturally

What is far more important than the question: ‘which language should I say this in?’ Instead think: ‘let me speak freely and naturally, let me respond naturally, in good intonation and let communication flow freely to the child.’

Speech therapy can be a crucial resource for bilingual or multilingual children and their families.

We work on targeted interventions to address speech and language difficulties, helping your child develop essential communication skills. For home practice between therapy sessions, we can recommend tailored treatment plans to help you help your child in daily life. Our input could be focusing on articulation, phonological awareness, attention and listening, vocabulary development and grammar.

Family support is crucial in speech therapy. We like to work closely with parents to provide guidance and strategies for fostering language development in both languages at home.

If you have any worries about your child being delayed in a bilingual or multilingual household do get in touch and we will be happy to support you in your journey.


Find a speech and language therapist for your child in London. Are you concerned about your child’s speech, feeding or communication skills and don’t know where to turn? Please contact me and we can discuss how I can help you or visit my services page.

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