A little over 43 percent of the world’s population is bilingual, which refers to being able to speak two languages of equal fluency. Merely being bilingual doesn’t mean your child will need a kids’ speech therapist, but it does mean that you need to pay close attention to how your child learns their languages to make sure they’re on the right track.
A child with a speech and language issue can look very similar to one that is trying to learn two languages. Knowing the differences and similarities can make all the difference in knowing if your child requires speech therapy, or if they are reaching all their speech milestones as expected.
What Bilingual Language Acquisition Looks Like
Any adult that has decided to learn a second language will know that it can take time, patience, and a lot of learning. The same rules apply to a child that is learning two languages, as well. The difference is that a young child is likely learning two at once.
Therefore, it’s not uncommon for errors to exist in both languages as your child tries to grasp the components of both. They may switch back and forward between both, mix the two, or learn sounds and words differently than what is typical for each language on its own.
They may even say one sentence in one language, then another in their second language. If they stop learning or repeating one of the languages, it’s also fairly common for them to lose proficiency in it, with more use of a single language.
More commonly, children may sit quietly when listening to language, as they may understand one of the languages better than they can speak it.
It’s essential to have patience during your child’s early years of learning different languages.
When You Need to Look at Kids Speech Therapy
Language and learning difficulties can often be hard to spot, but they are often even more challenging to detect in bilingual children. Silence, problems with words, and mispronunciation can all be associated with bilingual children, but also those that have a learning or language difficulty.
A common sign to be on the lookout for is stuttering. No research suggests that it’s any more common in bilingual children than monolingual children, but they may be more inclined to stutter with one language than another. If you notice that your child struggles to find the right words, then start applying some of the Stuttering Foundation’s recommended guidelines. These include:
Using one language at a time when speaking to your child
Allowing your child to mix their vocabulary, but responding in the same language
Making an appointment with an expert in kids speech therapy if stuttering is still apparent after six months
Silence is another shared sign between a bilingual child and one with a communication difficulty. Learning a language can see a child quiet while they listen, but it can also signal selective mutism due to anxiety about speaking. If you notice that your child refuses to speak in certain situations over a four-week period, get in touch with a speech therapist.
What Can I Do for My Bilingual Child?
If you suspect that your bilingual child might have a language or learning difficulty, then get in touch with your GP. Your doctor may refer you to a bilingual speech pathologist. You may also like to contact your child’s school to find out if an onsite speech and language pathologist can assist.