My child is hearing so many different languages at home, do they understand everything? My child uses a mixture of languages in their speech, is this normal? 
Tiffany Chen, Bilingual Speech-Language Pathologist, answers some questions she is often asked by parents raising bilingual children.  

Is it a language difference or a language disorder?

This is most critical question Speech-Language Pathologists (SLPs) want to address first, and here is what these terms mean:
  • Language Difference: When your child has difficulty in one language, but is fluent, or age-appropriate in another language.

  • Language Disorder: When your child has difficulty in both or all languages they are exposed to.

Why is it important to make a differential diagnosis?

This is so important! A bilingual service provider may be needed to assess both languages.  

If your child has a language difference, this means your child is already capable of learning their first language (Language 1). However, they are taking longer than expected to transfer their language skills and learning to the second language (Language 2). Be consistent and stick with how you are communicating at home. Rest assured, your child is on their way to being bilingual in two languages.

If your child has a language disorder, this means your child still needs to be supported in Language 1. Don’t worry, continue to speak to your child in the most comfortable language you use at home. Include your child in conversations, and do not give up! Look for a Speech and Language Pathologist (SLP) in your area for guidance and support. Once your child has established their language skills in Language 1, they will be ready to make gains in Language 2.

How can you tell if my child has a language disorder or a language gap? 

1. Fast-mapping: Children have the ability to learn a new word, given only a small amount of exposure, in context. 

What it tells you: If your child can remember and tell you a new word they learned after seeing or hearing it a few times, then they’ve got the skills to learn new vocabulary in whatever language they are learning! 

2. Narratives: The ability to tell a story, a past experience, or an event.

What it tells you: If your child can tell you a story in one language, and you can understand it without any trouble, most likely, your child is already using the language fluently! They have the words they need to use, they understand what sounds are used, and how they can form sentences to explain the story. 

3. Non-word repetition: Repeating made-up words from sounds they hear in the languages they learn. 

What it tells you: If your child can repeat 1-5 syllables of made-up words using the sounds in Language 1 or Language 2, that tells you your child can hear the differences between sounds in the language you speak. Furthermore, they have the ability to memorize sound patterns and repeat it back to you. This means that your child has the skills to learn the sounds and speak another language!

Recommendations from an SLP: 

  • Never, never, never give up on your home language! 

  • Keep being consistent with the language you speak at home.

  • If you are concerned about your child’s language development, find a Speech-Language Pathologist (SLP) that understands the language you speak. They will make the best judgment whether this is a typical phase in learning two or more languages!

  • Trust your Speech-Language Pathologist (SLP), with some time and effort, we will get your child going places! 

Thanks to ELG’s Tiffany Chen for allowing us to cross-post from her blog, SpeechWithinReach SLP

If you are concerned about your child’s language development contact ELG to talk to a specialist: [email protected]