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Bilingual! Should I only speak one language to my child?

Being bilingual as a child, is the perfect time to learn two languages!

bilingual child plays

Picture this. Your child is bilingual and they’re delayed in their language development. It is a common and natural thought that by reducing the number of languages the child is learning will make it easier for them to speak. 

This is actually not true! Children are usually able to learn two or more languages as efficiently as they learn one. It’s much easier to learn multiple languages simultaneously, when children are still young and their brains are still developing.

If you want your child to be able to communicate with you, grandparents and other family outside of NZ, then need to learn both languages. If they’re not learning this language at home, they likely won’t learn it anywhere else. There’s a risk that your home language will be lost!! It is also important as, if English is not your strongest language, then it will also not be the strongest language model for your child. 

A child with a language delay/disorder, will have the same struggles across both languages. It is not caused by learning both. A language delay has no link to the child being confused by learning more than one language. Children with language delay/disorder can learn to communicate in two languages. 

What are the milestones for children learning multiple languages?

12 months

  • First words start to emerge.

18 months

  • Your child should be using around 20-50 words across both languages. During this time, children are growing their vocabularies quickly, adding new words each day.

24 months

  • They should have a vocabulary of around 200-300 words across both languages and be beginning to put 2 words together, eg: “Mummy come”, “more milk”.

3-4 years 

  • Language is exploding. Your bilingual child should have a vocabulary of around 1000 words across both languages, having a word (in either language) for almost everything. They should be beginning to use 3+ word phrases.

4-5 years 

  • Your 4-5 year old, will construct long, complex sentences and tell simple stories.
  • Bilingual children may mix grammar rules for both languages. They may use words from both languages within the same sentence. This is part of bilingual language development, and will reduce as their vocabularies grow and they’re able to express themselves fully in one.

Tips for supporting bilingual language learning:

  • Speak to your child in the language you’re most comfortable in.
  • Share information with your child’s preschool/school. Provide a list of keywords so teachers are aware of what your child might be communicating when they say certain words. 
  • Always encourage your child in their use of language, whichever language they are using.
  • Remember that switching between different languages is common, even into adulthood.
  • Rather than correcting what your child has said, repeat the sentence using the correct word(s)/grammar to ensure that your child isn’t discouraged from using either language.
  • Language delay/disorder usually doesn’t occur only in one language, so if you have concerns, contact a Speech Language Therapist for assessment 🙂 

Contact us today to find out how we can help you and your child.