Bilingualism and Language Delay

Expat children frequently grow up in a bilingual or multilingual environement. This can pose a dilemma for families of children with suspected or diagnosed speech or language delay (autism, Down Syndrome, developmental delay, apraxia, etc.). 
The following questions and answers may prove helpful to families of expat children with language delay:

Q: Which language should our family speak at home? Should we limit ourselves to a single language at home/school/daycare?

A: Carry on as before with language use in the home and school.  The literature indicates little to no value in eliminating second languages from home and school environments. The benefits of multilingualism are the same for children with language delay as for typically developing children, although symptoms of language delay will be equally as apparent in all languages a particular child learns.

Q: What should I do if my child continues to switch between languages? Will he/she continue to be confused and never learn one language fluently?

A: Allow children with language delay to communicate in whichever language they are most comfortable with. Do not force them to choose one language or another. It will be natural for them to switch between languages (code-switch) in one sentence. Celebrate code-switching as a demonstration of language learning! All of us as second language learners have at some point done this very thing. It is a natural stage of language development, and may last longer in a child with language delays, but is nothing to be alarmed about.

Q: Which language should my child receive therapy in?

A: Speech therapy will achieve the best results if conducted in the language a child is most familiar with/hears most. Also, skills taught in therapy in one language have been proven to transfer to second and third languages. It should be noted that specific vocabulary skills do not transfer, but word combination skills, speech sound skills, and social language skills transfer well without further training in the second language.

Do you have another specific question or topic you are curious about? Please comment on this post or send me a private email.