The most frequent question we get asked at Speech Sisters regarding bilingualism is… “Will exposing my child to more than one language delay communication milestones?” The answer is “NO!” Raising your child to be bilingual or multilingual can actually be beneficial for their language development, organizational skills and cognition! It is important to remember that a child will be more likely to master a language when it is used consistently (quantity of use and exposure) and proficiently (quality of language context and input). If you want your child to be equally proficient in both languages, then it is important to try to maintain a balance in the exposure, frequency and usage of both languages.
The second most common question we get asked regarding bilingualism is…”What is the best way to expose my child to two languages?”
The truth is there is not only one way to expose your child to two languages and one way is not necessarily “better” than another. All of these options have worked and have been successful for millions of families! It is your choice and you need to determine what method works best for your family dynamic. Here are a few common ways to expose your child to more than one language:
Your child will learn both languages at the same time (typically before 3 years old):
One parent = One language. The other parent = The other language. Each parent speaks a different language with the child and each parent should speak in the language that they are most comfortable speaking. (e.g. Mom grew up speaking Mandarin, so she speaks only Mandarin to the child. Dad is not bilingual so he speaks only English with the child).
Both parents = Both languages. Each parent speaks both of the languages to the child. The family must determine which context and setting make sense for each language to be used. (e.g. The parents may speak English at home but when they go to Grandma’s house everyone speaks Spanish.)
One parent = One language. The other parent = Both languages. One parent speaks only one language with the child and the other parent speaks both languages with the child. (e.g. Dad grew up speaking Japanese, so he speaks only Japanese with the child. Mom is bilingual and proficient in both languages. Therefore, mom speaks both Japanese and English with the child). If you choose this method, you should make sure there is a balance in exposing your child and using both languages.
One language is spoken by both parents at home. The other language is used by a grandparent, nanny, caregiver or siblings.
Simultaneous Acquisition Pointers:
Children who learn two languages simultaneously will often meet communication milestones similarly to monolingual children (children who speak one language).
Remember when you count how many words your child is saying, you will include words from both languages combined.
Your child will learn one language first and then learn the other language afterward (typically occurring after 3 years old):
Formal language learning: The child is exposed to one language at home and then another language at school or a class.
Circumstantial bilingualism: The child is exposed to one language and then moves to a new environment and learns the second language.
Sequential Acquisition Pointers:
Children will go through 5 stages of sequential language acquisition. Moving through all 5 stages may take anywhere from 6 months to 2 years.
- Pre-Stage: HOME LANGUAGE USE: Child will acquire the primary home language. Language milestones should be met on target for the first language.
- Stage 1: OBSERVATIONAL AND LISTENING STAGE, aka “the silent period”: This may occur after the second language is introduced (anytime after age 3 years old).
- The silent period can range anywhere between one month to around six months.
- The silent period typically occurs at school where the new language is being introduced.
- This happens because the child is trying to understand and process the new language being used at school versus their primary language being used at home.
- Slowly the child will start attempting to use words in the new language at school.
- Stage 2: EARLY PRODUCTION: The child will attempt to use the new language, but their phrases and sentences may be incomplete and ungrammatical. This is because the new language is still limited.
- Stage 3: PRODUCTIVE LANGUAGE USE: The child becomes more comfortable and proficient in the second language as they begin to use more grammatical sentences to communicate.
- Stage 4: INTERMEDIATE FLUENCY: The child begins using complex sentences and having true conversations in the second language, therefore sounding more like a native speaker.
- Stage 5: FLUENT: The child becomes truly fluent in the second language and is able to converse and process the second language on an advanced level.
If you are considering exposing your child to more than one language, The Speech Sisters say…GO FOR IT! Choose the path that works best for your child and your family! Your way is truly the BEST way for your family! YOU know your family best!
To learn simple and effective strategies to help get your little one talking, check out our Talk on Track (newborn-14 months) and Time to Talk: Toddler Course (15-36 months). We’d love to equip you to experience the joy of your little one talking to you!
Preston, K. (2014). When a child goes silent. The ASHA Leader. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1044/leader.FTR1.19112014.34.
Bilingual Kidspot (2018). The 5 stages of second language acquisition. Retrieved from https://bilingualkidspot.com/2018/09/19/5-stages-of-second-language-acquisition/