Speech Disorders in Multilingual Children

 Speech Disorders in Bilingual Children

Author: Bridget Griffin

The multi-cultural society we live in today brings our children many benefits, including first-hand experience in diversity, exposure to human differences and more rounded education. It is no question that speaking multiple languages is helpful in this modern world, but doing so at an early stage of development can bring about some challenges. Let’s see some of the common misconceptions about bilingualism in childhood, as told by our very own Bridget Griffin, Speech Language Pathologist.

1. Myth or Fact: Multilingual children develop speech and language later than their monolinguals peers.

Myth! Similar to monolingual children, most multilingual children speak their first words by 12 months. By age two, a majority of both monolingual and multilingual children are combining words into two-word phrases. As speech and language develops, multilingual children may sometimes mix up grammatical rules or use words from both languages within the same phrase or sentence. Additionally, when a second language is first introduced, some multilingual children experience a “silent period” or “non-verbal” period where they do not speak much. This may last anywhere from a couple of weeks to several months. This is a normal stage of multilingual language development where children are absorbing and making sense of the rules of their new language, including speech sounds, vocabulary, and grammatical structures. Just as with monolingual children, multilingual children are most successful developing language with exposure, practice, and positive communication with their families and peers.

2. Myth or Fact: Children with language disorders cannot learn multiple languages.

Myth! According to research, children with language disorders exhibit no more difficulty learning multiple languages simultaneously (e.g. Russian and English from birth) than do children with similar language difficulties learning only one language. Sequential multilingual children with language disorders (e.g. Russian from birth, English upon starting preschool) may face increased difficulty learning multiple languages, but, again, these challenges are often comparable to those experienced by monolingual children with the same language disorder. To best support your child’s language learning, whether they are simultaneous or sequential language learners, it is important that each of their languages are supported in their schools and communities. If your child has a language disorder and is exposed to more than one language, don’t hesitate to consult a Speech-Language Pathologist to discuss the best ways to support your child.

3. Myth or Fact: Parents and caregivers should stop speaking their native language at home if they want their child to learn a second language.

Myth! When parents discover that their child has a language delay, many wonder whether they should stop speaking their native language in favor of teaching the language used most in their child’s school and community. The fact is just the opposite! Research supports that parents and caregivers should continue using the language that they are most comfortable using with their children. When parents try to speak a language with which they are not comfortable, they run the risk of their child losing elements of their native language and home culture. To empower multi-lingual children with language disorders, it is important for children to share a common language with their parents to communicate a wide variety of values, experiences, and needs. Additionally, when a parent models fluent language, children often pick up on vocabulary, grammatical structures, and speech sounds which may aid in the learning and understanding of new languages. This brings us to our final point:

4. Myth or Fact: Evergreen Speech & Hearing Clinic works with multilingual patients.

Fact! The Speech-Language Pathology team at Evergreen Speech & Hearing Clinic works with children with a variety of language backgrounds. We collaborate closely with parents, caregivers, and families, starting with the initial assessment all the way through graduation. In addition to practicing skills within the clinic, we also incorporate training for families to facilitate practice at home in the child’s native language. We can also communicate with the child’s educators to provide support as needed. The clinicians at ESHC believe that multilingual children can succeed within their communities and we work hard to empower families and community members to support this success!

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