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There is no single way to raise a bilingual child. Sometimes in the past, parents were advised to separate the two languages when talking to their children.
For example, when parents talk with their children, one parent speaks one language and the other speaks in another. Although children can learn more than one language in this way, this is not the only option. We know that children can learn multiple languages simultaneously and this can be beneficial for their development and problem-solving abilities later in life.
What really helps is to surround your child with rich and valuable language input. It is important to offer children frequent opportunities to use language (whether that is one language or more) in meaningful and enjoyable ways.
Advice to parents on the topic of multilingual children has changed and evolved over the years and on that basis, we’ve outlined answers to some of the most common questions our speech pathologists are asked.
Parents and caregivers should be encouraged to speak in a language that they are most proficient in and feel comfortable with. It is crucial that children are exposed to good language models during their formative years as strong knowledge in their first language can work as a foundation for learning a second language effectively. Your child will get language models from a variety of people, including when they are at childcare, kinder, at school, and out in the community.
It is completely normal for a bilingual speaker to have a 'dominant' language and children are no different. Each language definitely does not have to be at the same proficiency. You should not feel compelled to correct this situation. You can continue to provide accurate language models for your child in whichever language/s you feel most proficient in.
"Code Mixing" or “Code Switching” is the term given to mixing words from two languages in one sentence and it is very common. Children often code mix because they hear adults in their environment using both languages simultaneously, and it can be an indicator that they are being resourceful when they do not know or have trouble retrieving an accurate word in one language.
No, there is no scientific evidence to suggest this. In May 2021 the American Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research published an article outlining a study examining the frequency of code-switching by Spanish–English-speaking children as a function of language proficiency in each language and diagnosis of developmental language disorder (DLD) or typical language development (TLD). The results indicate that code-switching occurs similarly across children with DLD and their peers with TLD; therefore, the frequency and type of code-switches should not be used as an indicator of developmental language disorder. Click here to read more about the study.
Just like some monolingual children, a percentage of bilingual children may have a language disorder. However, there is no scientific evidence to support that learning multiple languages causes a language disorder. Please continue speaking to your child in whichever language/s you feel comfortable with, we want your child to be able to interact with you, their family, friends and community, no matter what language they are speaking in. If you are worried that your child might have a language disorder, feel free to contact one of our Speech Pathologists for an appointment to discuss further.
Whilst we have addressed some very common questions in this article we’d recommend referring to Speech Pathology Australia (SPA) for further information on this and many other speech-related topics.