Bilingual is Better
Photo by syronnica

Photo by syronnica

Last week we introduced you to bilingual English/Spanish speech language professional, Ellen Stubbe Kester, Ph.D., CCC-SLP, who debunked three common myths about speech development in bilingual children.  Now, we are excited to announce that Dr. Kester has joined the impressive panel of bilingual experts that collaborate in our weekly series-Ask an Expert.

We invite you to visit Dr. Kester’s website, Bilinguistics, to learn more about her and her team.

They are “dedicated to enhancing speech and language services for Spanish-English bilingual children, enabling those children to achieve their highest communicative and academic potential.”

Click here to send her your questions regarding speech development in bilingual children.

Does my Son Have a Speech Delay Because He’s Bilingual?

Today´s question was sent by Claudia McGlothlin who´s raising two children using the OPOL (One-parent-one-language) method.

Hi. My name is Claudia and I am raising a 34 month-old boy and a 14 month-old girl, both bilingual in English and Spanish. I am from Perú and my husband is from the U.S.

I only speak to my children in Spanish and my husband speaks in English to them. Sometimes he repeats the words that he knows in Spanish but I keep telling him to stop. Some friends told me that the kids can get confused.

My son is not talking yet. He developed his own sign system and he only has a few words: go- jugo-globo-mami-dada-tres(when I count “uno, dos y…” he finishes my sentence)-bus- agua.

I am starting to get concerned on when he will be talking? He completely understands both languages, but I can tell he understands more Spanish since he spends more time with me. Is this normal?  Thanks.

Hi Claudia,

Ellen Stubbe Kester, Ph.D., CCC-SLP

Ellen Stubbe Kester, Ph.D., CCC-SLP

First, let me commend you for your efforts in raising your children as bilinguals.  In today’s world, speaking more than one language will open many doors for your children.  There are three points in your letter that I want to address.  I’ll address them in the order you presented them.

You commented that you tell your husband to stop repeating the Spanish words he knows for fear that your children will get confused.  Stop telling him to stop!  “One parent-one language” is one way that people raise bilingual children but it is not the only way.  Children learn to differentiate their two languages when each parent speaks a different language, when one parent speaks both languages and the other speaks one language, and when both parents speak both languages.  Research indicates that there is no evidence that children with normal language development or children with language impairment are “confused” by learning two languages at the same time.  The more language input your child receives, the better.

Your son is 34-months old and is only using a few words.  This is not typical and it is not a result of a bilingual environment.  Children between 2-1/2 to 3-years of age typically have vocabularies of several hundred words and converse in phrases and simple sentences.  I have 31-month-old twins who live in a bilingual environment.  One has typical language development and converses in sentences.  The other has delayed language skills with a vocabulary of less than 50 words.  They are in the same home and school environments but have very different levels of language skills.  The bilingual environment is not the culprit.

Your son understands both languages well.  This is a great indicator of future language skills.  Children who have comprehension skills similar to their peers are those who are most likely to catch up to their peers in expressive language skills.

I recommend that you have your son evaluated by a bilingual speech-language pathologist who is well-versed in bilingual language development.

To find one in your area, go to the website for the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) and select Find a Professional.  Follow the prompts to put in your city or zip code and the language(s) you speak.  It will give you a list of providers in your area who can help you.

Ellen Stubbe Kester, Ph.D., CCC-SLP

Bilinguistics Speech and Language Services, Austin, Texas

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