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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How can we help practise speech targets with our children during the day, without it being an “extra tedious ask”?

How can we help practise speech targets with our children during the day, without it being an “extra tedious ask”?

Image by Freepik

Say, your child replaces the ‘f’ sound with a ‘p’ so they say PAN when they mean FAN or POUR when they mean FOUR. Now after one or two therapy sessions we have managed to get your child to “bite your lip and blow” and we are seeing a little ‘f’ sound right there! Result! But now we need to practise this so it becomes a habit, so that we can start building up some little words like FAN and FUR and FAR or FOUR….

Now, for older children, let’s say over 6 years old, we might just get away with saying: ‘darling come and sit down now and do your speech practice quickly before you go and play.’ But for the little ones, under 5 years old, it is often necessary to “package” the practice within daily activities.

Daily activities

So, our goal might be: produce an ‘f’ about 50 times a day. You might think: ‘oh gosh, I won’t be able to do that, it’s too much’, but wait! It can actually be done as part of your daily activities.

Here are some little examples and you will be able to think of some more for sure.

Morning

Before brushing teeth look into the mirror together and say ‘let’s practise our “bunny sound” quickly: bite your lip and blow: FFF FFF FFF FFF FFF FFF FFFF’. Look in the mirror, get as many done here as possible, 10-15, RESULT! Now brush teeth and done.

Mid-morning snack

A … muffin? Pop a little birthday candle on it and say: ‘let’s practice our Bunny Sound here quickly: bite your lip and blow and try and blow out this candle.’ FFF FFF FFF FFF FFF (you might have to re-light it a few times). Do 10-15, now eat the cake, done!

Play

Pretend to fly an aeroplane and say: “’oh look, I can make the ‘bunny sound’ and make a noise at the same time VVV VVV VVV VVV VVV. That’s cool, let’s try. Ten times?’

Lunch

‘Oh, that soup is a bit hot, let’s blow it, let’s do it with our “bunny sound”: FFF FFF FFF.’ Do ten and by now you have done most if not all of your repeats.

Book time

Select a book with a lot of ‘f’ sounds it in or a book with bunnies (your Speech Therapist will make suggestions). Read the book together with your child and each time there is a bunny or a fish practise the FFF FFF FFF FFF.

By now you will probably have exceeded your target of 50 times FFFs a day!!

Story telling

Now for something different like “Story Telling”: your child’s goal might be: “to talk about what’s first, then, next and finally”.

Examples:

Tooth brushing

Ask your child to think about what is first, what’s next and then last before you start brushing teeth.

Meal times

Talk about what did we eat the other day at Nando’s? ‘First, I had xxx then I had xxx. What about you?’ Or as you are about to lay the table: ‘what do we need to do first, then and then?’

Dressing

Pretend to be an alien who does not know what to do first, get it all wrong and have a laugh… ‘oh I think those underpants must go on my head?!’ Etc

Play time

Use figurines with farms or Lego houses or Playmobil and help your child make up simple little stories using first, then next and last.

Books

Share a book with a clear start, middle and finish and talk about the characters, who does what, who is first, then and then and finally.

At the end of each session with your child we will talk about what the targets for the week will be and together we can think about how you can incorporate your practice easily into your daily life, no matter how busy you are!

Be sure to bring this up next time you have your session, so that we can figure out together what will work for you and your daily schedules.

Together we can make it happen!

Sonja


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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