communication development language speech delay toddler

Navigating Bilingualism: Toddler Language Development

Hey there, friend. If you're raising a bilingual child, you might be curious about its impact on their language development.   In this blog post, I hope to provide some insights and tips on navigating the unique journey of language acquisition in bilingual homes. Let's dive in!

Benefits of Bilingualism:  There are MANY benefits for young children in learning two (or more!) languages.  In fact, research suggests that children from bilingual homes exhibit enhanced cognitive flexibility and superior executive functioning skills. And just so you know, executive thinking skills are cognitive abilities that help individuals manage and regulate their thoughts, actions, and emotions. These skills include tasks such as planning, problem-solving, impulse control, and working memory. So, you can see as the parent of a young child how fostering strong executive thinking skills better enables your child's ability to learn, make decisions, and navigate social situations effectively. Developing these skills early on can support academic success, emotional well-being, and overall positive behavior in children. What parent doesn't want that?!  And here is one more interesting research based outcome:  Despite initial concerns about potential speech delays, bilingual kids often surpass their monolingual peers in language proficiency.

In addition, teaching a second language in bilingual homes is not just about communication—it's a key element in preserving our cultural identity. Embracing and passing on our native language to our children fosters a strong connection to our heritage, traditions, and family roots. By nurturing bilingualism, we empower our children to engage meaningfully with our cultural background, fostering a sense of pride and a bridge to their ancestral identity. It's a gift that goes beyond words, ensuring that our cultural richness is carried forward through generations.

What about Language Delays?  As someone who works with parents of young children with communication delays, I get asked that question A LOT.  To be honest, it is sometimes a challenge to discern if it is a true speech delay or if a child is behind because of coming from a bilingual home.  Here is how I envision the language experience of a young child in general:  Imagine your toddler's brain as an office where each learned word is a piece of paper. There's a paper over there for 'ball' and another across the way for 'milk.'  As their understanding grows, so do the papers on the floor.  At this point, they need to organize all this new information so they get a filing cabinet.  They start by just tossing the papers in there, but eventually they get file folders to start classifying different words.  This is a challenging enough task for a child let alone one from a bilingual home because they have TWO filing cabinets that need to be organized.  As a result, they need more time and practice.  Does that make sense?

Tips for Bilingual Parents:  So what can you do to support your bilingual learner.  Here are some of my favorite tips...

  • Language Consistency: During conversations, stick to one language—either English or the second language. Avoid mixing them within sentences, as it can confuse your child's language filing process. Consistency aids efficient language organization.

  • Think Big Picture: Consider the language you want your child to use in essential settings.  I always ask parents 'what language do you want to be speaking during family dinners?'  If the answer is , for example, Spanish then that is the language you should focus on with your child.  It is essential for young language learners to understand how language helps them to express wants and needs and to connect with others socially.  If you are primarily speaking one language at home, e.g., French but you and spouse are both fluent in English and want your child to learn that as well, my suggestion would be to stick with what they hear the most of to start making it easier to get their language lights turned up.  I want to assure you that if your child is say going to be going to an all English speaking school, your child will pick up QUICKLY on language there.  As a matter of fact, their brains are hard wired to learn language as young children.  When I worked in the preschool environment, I saw many children who were exposed to one language at home come to school and within two months pick up on directions and simple words and phrases.  

  • Infuse Language into Routines: Daily routines are one of the BEST teaching tools that you have as a parent.  So, if you happen to have a pretty even split of say English and Spanish in the home, it can be helpful to designate specific routines for concentrated language exposure. For example, speaking only in Spanish during meals and only in English during baths.  Hearing language within the entire context of a routine makes it easier for your child to learn.  

  • Keep It Fun: And finally, you want to maintain a light and enjoyable atmosphere around language learning. Minimize corrections and instead affirm their attempts. If they mix languages, gently model the correct phrasing, encouraging a positive language-learning experience.

In summary, raising a bilingual child is a rewarding journey that requires patience and consistency. Embrace the unique linguistic challenges, knowing that your child is building a robust cognitive foundation. If you are wanting to know what you can do to support your child's language at home, check out my How to Get Your Toddler Talking course which is filled with strategies to get your child from no words to simple sentences as quickly as possible.   If you have any questions, feel free to reach out to me here.  Until next time!