Bilingual is Better


“My baby is 18 months and my husband speaks Spanish with her and I speak English.  However, when I asked her, “Honey, what do you want?” she said: “tita,” which means her bottle. I knew that she understood me because we use the word tita for both languages. She understands Spanish, but she doesn`t say many words in English,  just a few. I want to know if that`s normal? She can`t have a normal conversation but she says more words in Spanish than in English but I know that she understands everything that I say to her.

Thank you,

Persis

Dear Persis,

What you describe is very typical in bilingual development.  Research shows that children’s output is driven by their input.  Typically, if they hear one language more, they will use that language more.  We also know that children learn to understand before they speak, for the most part. It is a good sign that she appears to understand everything you say to her.

I haven’t met any 18-month-olds who can have “normal conversations” by my definition.  It is common that they have a set of words in one language and another set of words in their other language with a little bit of overlap. In fact, research shows that children her age who are raised in bilingual settings typically express 70% of their concepts in one language or the other and only 30% in both languages.

I encourage you to continue to use both languages with your daughter.  Before you know it, she will converse with you and your husband in English and Spanish.

Best,

Ellen Kester, Ph.D., CCC-SLP

Ellen Stubbe Kester, Ph.D, CCS-LLP – A bilingual (English/Spanish) speech language professional who earned her Ph.D. in Communication Sciences and Disorders from The University of Texas at Austin. She has provided bilingual Spanish/English speech-language services in schools, hospitals, and early intervention settings. Her research focus is on the acquisition of semantic language skills in bilingual children, with emphasis on assessment practices for the bilingual population. She is the President of Bilinguistics, which is “dedicated to enhancing speech and language services for Spanish-English bilingual children, enabling those children to achieve their highest communicative and academic potential.” You can read her answers here.

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