Should You Stop Speaking to Your Child in Your Native or Preferred Language?

Should You Stop Speaking to Your Child in Your Native/Preferred Language thumbnail

We often hear on the news that speaking more than one language has great benefits, such as increased mental flexibility. 

Yet, when it comes to children having a hard time learning how to communicate, I’m often asked if speaking more than one language at home would make things worse. The answer is NO. 

We now know that bilingualism does not cause speech delays, just the opposite. 

So, why does this myth continue to exist? And what benefits does bilingualism offer?

Speech Development and the Benefits of Bilingualism

There are many benefits to speaking more than one language. According to the American Speech-Language and Hearing Association (ASHA), these include:

  • Being able to learn new words easily
  • Being able to use information in new ways
  • Putting words into categories efficiently
  • Quickly coming up with solutions to problems
  • Good listening skills
  • Connecting with others easily

All of this is wonderful, but some parents may ask: “If my child is already having difficulty communicating, is it ok to speak to them in my preferred language, or even more than one language?” 

The answer is YES!

What Research Says About Bilingualism and Speech Delay

Several studies comparing monolingual and bilingual children with speech delays show no evidence that being bilingual worsens their difficulties or has any negative effects on the children’s overall language learning.

Bilingualism may help against dementia

Other studies have even shown that being bilingual or multilingual protects the brain from the symptoms of dementia.

Hearing multiple languages will not confuse your child

From just days after birth, all infants can differentiate between many languages. Bilingual children are also not confused by acquiring two languages at the same time, even if they have been diagnosed with a language or speech delay.

Language mixing is also not a sign of confusion

When bilingual children mix two languages (called code-switching) it does not mean they are confused or are having a hard time learning to speak. Much to the contrary, it shows how much mental flexibility the bilingual child has by alternating between languages while communicating.

As a multilingual speech-pathologist working with children from a variety of cultural and linguistic backgrounds, it makes me cringe when parents tell me someone told them they should not speak their native tongue with their child. 

Please, do not accept that! 

The reality is that bilingualism does not cause communication delays and these communication delays are NOT worsened by bilingualism.

How Do Parents Help Their Children By Speaking in Their Native Language?

  • It supports your child’s overall language and speech. It is not beneficial to your child to speak to him in a language you do not master. Make sure you’re offering perfect language models in your native tongue.
  • It honors your culture and allows for meaningful connections between your child and their relatives. When you raise bilingual children who can speak the language of extended family and friends abroad you help important relationships and cherished traditions to pass from generation to generation.
  • Bilingualism promotes increased cognitive skills. It boosts problem-solving and multitasking skills. Children who speak more than one language at home tend to be more creative and better able to focus.

It helps future professional success. Bilinguals are more likely to get hired for jobs. Speaking another language is always an asset in the workplace.

Being able to speak more than one language will bring to your child wonderful advantages and opportunities. Do not let anyone tell you otherwise!

Bilingualism and Speech Delay: Your Next Steps

Is your child being raised in a bilingual home and is showing signs of speech-language delay? Parents should first contact a speech-language pathologist who is trained in servicing culturally and linguistically diverse children. If a bilingual speech therapist is not readily available, you may need an interpreter. 

Guidelines for best practice suggest that evaluation and treatment in a child’s home language help build a stronger foundation for further speech and language development.

The earlier you get in touch with a speech-language pathologist, the sooner you can get your child the treatment they need to develop their language skills.

Eveline de Castro

Eveline de Castro

Eveline de Castro, M.S. CCC-SLP is a multilingual speech-language pathologist in Chicago, IL. She received her Masters in Speech-Language Pathology at Saint Xavier University. She speaks Portuguese natively, English, Spanish, and Italian fluently, and is currently learning French. She works with a culturally and linguistically diverse caseload in the Chicagoland area in the settings of Early Intervention as well as in the public school system.

References

Alladi, S., Bak, T. H., Duggirala, V., Surampudi, B., Shailaja, M., Shukla, A. K., Chaudhuri, J. R., & Kaul, S. (2013). Bilingualism delays age at onset of dementia, independent of education and immigration status. Neurology, 81(22), 1938.

Guiberson Mark. (2013). Bilingual Myth-Busters Series Language Confusion in Bilingual Children. Perspectives on Communication Disorders and Sciences in Culturally and Linguistically Diverse (CLD) Populations, 20(1), 5–14. (page 6)

Gutiérrez-Clellen, V. F., Simon-Cereijido, G., & Wagner, C. (2008). Bilingual children with language impairment: A comparison with monolinguals and second language learners. Applied Psycholinguistics, 29(1), 3-19.

Portes, A., & Hao, L. (1998). E Pluribus Unum: Bilingualism and language loss in the second generation.Sociology of Education, 71, 269–294.

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