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Bilingual Language Development and Early Intervention

By Kelly Beddall, SLP

Do children in bilingual families experience greater speech and language delays? Not the case, says Kelly Beddall, teli Speech Language Pathologist. “There is a great deal of misinformation regarding the rate of language development in children in families where two languages are spoken,” notes Kelly. “In fact, regular experience with two different languages has been linked to some encouraging social and cognitive advantages. Unfortunately, this message still hasn’t gotten out there!”

Our world has become increasingly multilingual as more than 20% of school age children (5-17) are speaking a language other than English at home. Interestingly enough, children are able to learn both languages simultaneously.

Children as young as 2 years of age can switch languages, based on whom they are speaking with at the time. For example, in a family in which Mom speaks English and Dad speaks Swedish, their child will know to speak in English when he hears English and to speak in Swedish when he hears Swedish,” explains Kelly. “It is also important to note that when learning a second language, your child may experience a “silent period” in which he or she does not speak in the second language. This is normal, so try not to panic! “Parents should also be aware that by learning two languages, bilingual children may develop language skills at a slightly slower pace, due in part to the greater volume of words learned when mastering more than one language.

Early Intervention evaluation is a key to understanding if your child may be experiencing speech delays. Children may learn the two languages at different rates since they are essentially learning double the content. “It is very important that your child is evaluated in both languages to understand if there is a language delay or just a delay because of second language acquisition. Often times they will catch up and learn the second language, English or other, regardless of what is spoken in the home.”

There are significant benefits, to children who are bilingual such as:

  • Transfer of skills in one language (usually primary) may enhance learning in another language.
  • Expanded vocabulary as they have two languages to draw upon.
  • Better cognitive performance in terms of planning and good problem-solving skills.

At teli we support bilingual language and speech development by incorporating both native as well as secondary languages into activities. By reinforcing both languages, our staff is able to incorporate shared activities that help both parents and their clients improve their ability to communicate and enable parents to play a key role in their child’s success!

If you have concerns about your child’s development, teli can help. Call us at (412) 922-8322.

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