February 1, 2024

Can My Child be Bilingual with a Language Delay?

Can a child with a language delay learn a second language as well as a child who doesn't?

In a time where speaking more than one language is becoming increasingly common, the topic of being bilingual (speaking more than one language) and having a language delay arises. How does having a language delay affect the acquisition and use of a second language? What if your child is a native speaker of both languages? If your child has a language delay, should they be exposed to a second language?

Sometimes children speak two languages when they are exposed to one language at home and a different language at school or daycare. Other children speak two languages because their parents have chosen to expose them to a second language (e.g. an immersion program). Further, there are different terms for these types of acquisitions. Simultaneous acquisition occurs when children acquire two languages before the age of 3, and sequential acquisition occurs when children acquire a second language after their first language is established (Lowry).

How Does a Language Delay Affect Learning a Second Language?

But what if your child has a language delay? How does this affect their languages? In the case of simultaneous acquisition, children with Specific Language Impairment (SLI) have no more difficulty learning two languages than children with SLI who are learning only one language (Paradis 2003, Gutierrez 2008). (SLI occurs when children have difficulties with language but no co-occurring developmental difficulties or medical diagnoses.)

In the case of sequential acquisition, if your child already has a language delay, you may be hesitant to expose your child to a second language. However, although these children do face language-learning difficulties, they are not at a greater disadvantage than a monolingual child with the same language difficulties (Lowry).

These conclusions seem promising for those wanting to learn multiple languages, but according to research done by Paradis, Genesee, and Crago (2011) (referred to herein as “the study”), children with SLI may continue to have language difficulties in their second language even after years of exposure. The study was conducted with Turkish speaking children learning Dutch, and showed that the children with SLI learning a second language continued to lag behind their monolingual peers with SLI. It has been suggested that the continued struggles were a result of the children coming from low socioeconomic and disadvantaged minority groups; however, this has not been proven (Paradis 2010).  Given the varying conclusions of existing scientific research, it is important to make as informed of a choice as possible by looking at all the factors applicable to your child. No matter what you decide, be sure to support your child’s language(s) in all environments to foster growth.

Seek the help of a speech and language pathologist if think your child has difficulties with language.


  1. Paradis, J., Crago, M., Genesee F., & Rice, M. (2003). Bilingual children with specific language impairment: How do they compare with their monolingual peers? Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research, 46, 1-15.
  2. Gutierrez-Clellen, V., Simon-Cereijido, G, & Wagner, C. (2008). Bilingual children with language impairment: A comparison with monolinguals and second language learners. Applied Linguistics, 29, 3-20.
  3. Lowry, Lauren. Can children with language impairments learn two languages? Retrieved from http://www.hanen.org/helpful-info/articles/can-children-with-language-impairments-learn-two-l.aspx
  4. Paradis, J., Genesee, F., and Crago, M. (2011). Dual language development and disorders: A handbook on bilingualism and second language learning. Baltimore, Maryland: Paul H. Brookes Publishing Co.
  5. Paradis, J. (2010). The interface between bilingual development and specific language impairment. Applied Psycholinguistics, 31, 227-252.

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