Bilingual Homes: Do they delay a child’s speech and language skills or enhance them?

Language in the Home, School and Work:

In the fast-paced world of technology and communication, parents are continuing to seek out all opportunities for getting their child ahead of the game.  Most schools believe that it is advantageous to introduce their young students to an additional language in order to facilitate early acquisition of a second language.  As these children grow and enter the workforce, their value becomes increasingly more apparent.  Many families throughout the country currently speak multiple languages within the home and parents continuously weigh the benefits of teaching their child another language.  However, other parents may wonder if they are doing their child a disservice by introducing another language when their child is so young.  While it has been widely proven that children significantly benefit from early exposure to a second language, parents often question whether the acquisition of a second language will hinder their child’s fluency in their first language.

What are the Benefits?

When trying to evaluate whether or not your child would benefit from learning a second language, it is helpful to consider children who live in densely populated regions throughout the world.  Many children are exposed to multiple languages from birth, and successfully develop speech and language skills in more than just their dominant language without having any effect on the first language.  Early exposure and consistency are key when helping to facilitate language development in both the first and subsequent languages.  According to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA), research has even found that children who are bilingual actually perform better than their monolingual peers on various language assessments.

How to Teach Your Child Two Languages:

One thing to consider when teaching your child a new language is the amount of instruction you plan on exposing them to at home.  Families need to be willing to put forth the effort to continuously teach their child, in order for them to maintain what they have learned and continue to thrive in the new language.  Like any other skill, if children do not continuously practice and use the new language, it will become increasingly difficult for them to generalize what they have learned, as well as comprehend newer information.  Parents therefore need to be well versed in the language they are teaching in order for the child to be successful.  For example, if your child is learning to speak French at school but you are not fluent in this language, it is best to just have your child exposed within the school environment and leave the instruction to the professionals.  While your child may not acquire the new language as quickly, you can be assured that they will pick up the second language accurately!

What if the Child is Struggling with Speech?

Some parents may question what route they should take if their child is currently presenting with challenges regarding communication skills. While they want to give their child the advantage of learning a new language, many may feel as though their weaknesses in the first language will directly impact their acquisition of the second language.  Therefore, ASHA recommends that it is best to continue to speak to your child in the language that you are most comfortable with.  Your child may continue to receive exposure of the second language at school or daycare, but it is suggested not to overwhelm your child.  If, however, the child is presenting with significant challenges in either or both languages, it is recommended that they receive further assessment from a licensed Speech and Language Pathologist to evaluate where the breakdown in communication is occurring.

How Parents can Nurture a Bilingual Child’s Speech:

While the decision to expose your child to another language is truly a personal one, most researchers believe that you would be giving your child a significant advantage over monolingual peers.  Some simple recommended activities to facilitate bilingualism at home include using two languages consistently from birth with your child, as again early exposure is vital to the development of language.  Also, parents can try to introduce the language in different contexts, such as speaking only Spanish at home and English only at school.  Some researchers believe that the “sink-or-swim” philosophy is not recommended for all children however. Additionally, practice both languages throughout the day by providing your child with numerous opportunities to continue to grow!

I would love to know, does your bilingual child thrive or struggle in school as a result of learning two languages at home?

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