Raising our youngest daughter in a bilingual (Spanish and English) home, I have found myself thinking more and more about the subject of language development and the whole process surrounding ‘children starting to speak.’ My personal biggest question was, ‘Does bilingualism cause language delay?’ So I spent a some time on line and thought I’d share what I’ve found.
1.Research shows that bilingual children start speaking within the same ‘normal’ time frames as monolingual children.
|Birth to 3 months||Makes quiet cooing sounds when they’re happy. These are typically a single vowel sounds, like ahhhh or oohhhh.|
|2 to 3 months||Cries differently in different situations. As you get to know your baby, you will probably be able to distinguish a hungry cry from the cry he makes when he’s tired, or the cry that she makes when her nappy needs changing.|
|3 to 4 months||Vocalizes mostly vowels, but cooing becomes a little more sophisticated, with more varied sounds. By now your baby should begin to babble, making sounds like “muh-muh” or “bah-bah”|
|5 to 6 months||Practices intonation by making her voice rise and fall, often in response to baby talk and your facial expressions. Red flag: If your child isn’t making vocal sounds by the time she’s 6 months old, talk with her doctor.|
|7 to 12 months||Babbles with greater diversity, making new sound combinations and intonations. Tries to imitate your speech with phrases like “bah-BAH-bah” or “dee-dee-dah.” Has pretend conversations with you, taking turns “talking.” Red flag: If your child isn’t making vocal sounds by age 7 months, talk with his doctor.|
|12 months||Says his first word and knows one or more words well enough to use them.|
|14 months||Uses inflection (for example, raises her voice at the end of a question, like, “more?”) and makes hand gestures to complement her speech. Red flag: If your child isn’t saying any words by age 15 months, bring it up with her doctor.|
|16 months||Talks to someone much of the time as opposed to just babbling to no one in particular. Calls you to get your attention (“Mommy!” or “Mama”), nods and shakes head for yes and no and makes many common consonant sounds, like t, d, n, w, and h.|
|18 months||Has a vocabulary of about 10 to 20 words, including names (“Mama”), verbs (“eat”), and adjectives (“cold”). Uses common phrases (“want doll”) to make requests.|
|18 to 24 months||Starts putting two-word phrases together for more novel purposes (“Daddy go,” “milk mess”).|
|24 months||Knows 50 to 100 words. Uses short, two- or three-word sentences and personal pronouns (“I fall down!” “Me go school?”).|
|2 to 3 years||Can carry on a simple conversation about something in the immediate environment. Asks simple questions frequently. Expands phrases from three- to six-word sentences and develops a vocabulary of 200 to 300 words, including lots of verbs.
Uses past tense by adding a “d” sound to verbs (“runned”) and plurals by adding an “s” sound to nouns (“mans”). Uses pronouns (I, she, we) correctly. Red flag: If your 2- or 3-year-old always echoes your questions instead of answering them, tell her doctor. This could be an early sign of a social or language delay. (If she occasionally repeats your question as part of her response, it’s nothing to worry about.)
|3 to 4 years||Favorite words often include “why,” “what,” and “who.” Can be understood most of the time. Can tell you what happened if you were out of the room. Red flag: Your child may sound as though he’s stuttering if he gets tripped up on his words in his excitement to communicate. This is perfectly normal. If it continues for more than six months, though, or if he tenses his jaw or grimaces while trying to get the words out, ask your child’s doctor for a referral to a speech pathologist.|
|4 to 5 years||Communicates easily and can retell a simple story with a beginning, middle, and end while looking at pictures. Can use four to five sentences to describe a picture, with most of the grammar elements in place. Uses more than one action word in a sentence.
Pronounces most sounds correctly but may still have trouble with th, r, s, l, v, ch, sh, and z. Uses lots of descriptive words, including time-related words like “yesterday.”
|6 to 7 years||Can describe how two items are the same or different, retell a story or event without the help of pictures, and recount past conversations and events. Uses some irregular plural nouns (“men,” “teeth”).|
|8 years||Has mastered all speech sounds as well as the rate, pitch, and volume of speech. Uses complex and compound sentences correctly and is capable of carrying on a conversation with an adult.|
Some children start speaking before we expect it to happen and others much later, regardless of the number of languages spoken in the home. Therefore, it is important that you keep an eye on your children’s overall language development in general and check with a speech therapist if you are concerned.
2. Bilingual children can have the same speech and cognitive disorders as monolingual children. Just because your child is bilingual doesn’t mean he or she is free from all language disorders! If you are concerned that your child has a speech disorder, make sure to get it checked out as soon as you can. But if you are told that you need to switch to a monolingual household, ask the therapist why this is being recommended and possibly consider getting a second opinion from a therapist who understands the role that bilingualism plays in a growing child’s life. Ask the therapist to show you specific research which proves that switching to a monolingual household will make a significant difference in your child’s therapy success.
3. Children in a bilingual household do not need to be “taught” a language to ensure that they get it right. Language learning itself is a complex process children work through step by step based on the surrounding verbal input. Just use your languages as much as possible with your children and their brains will do the work of putting it all together.
So now, what can we do to help our little ones develop their language skills?
Please note: These activities are also great for improving your child’s language skills, even if you’re not raising them in a bilingual home. If your child has a speech delay , you should however call a local speech pathologist to have your child assessed. You can find a speech pathologist through your pediatrician.
1. Be a good speech role model – speak clearly and slowly and look at your child when speaking. If your child says a word or sentence incorrectly, rather than correct them or ask them to repeat it, just say the word / sentence back to them correctly to show you have understood. This way your child always hears the correct version.
2. Observe and comment – when you are playing with your child, take a step back, do not feel that you have to fill the silences, just comment on the things your child is doing so they can here (and learn) the new vocabulary. (You might sound a little silly doing it, but every extra word that your little one hears helps 🙂 )
3. Try sign language
Even if you only learn a few signs, teach these to your child. There are studies to show a correlation between sign language and speech. If nothing else, it stops the huge frustration that children are feeling.
Perhaps teach just the biggies: more, mine, help, Mommy, Daddy, please, thank you, and the signs for his favorite foods, toys etc. While this is not the long term solution, it does offer your child (and yourself) some relief fro the frustration.
4. Remember your language level – don’t use words or sentences that your child will not understand. Speak to them using language they can understand, and explain any new words, especially if you see that your child looks confused.
5. Turn off the TV and take out the pacifier/dummy – children do not learn language and social skills by watching TV, and new evidence shows that too much TV watching prior to starting school can affect listening and attention skills, which will impact on their learning once they start school. Background noise also makes it more difficult for children to concentrate on the real words that you, or the other real people around them are saying.
6. Make printable magnets
Make magnets for your child’s favorite things, and have them stuck up on the refrigerator. This is another activity that aims to eliminate (or decrease) frustration.
How to make them: Use a large flat sheet of magnet paper. Glue a white sheet of card-stock on it and cut into squares, then draw pictures onto them with the things that your child might need: cup, food, bed, favorite toy, etc…
7.Make time to sit down with your child – even if it is just for a few minutes a day (although the more one-to-one time the better), spend some quiet time with your child, away from distractions. Look at a book together and talk about the pictures.Explain what is happening in the book in as much detail as possible, and try to use as new, age appropriate words as possible, without overwhelming your child.
8..Feed language in, don’t force it out – comment and expand on your child’s words and sentences, rather than asking them to repeat words. If your child says “car”, respond with “big car” or “yellow car” or “fast car”. This is how children learn words, by hearing new vocabulary and linking it to the items or events they are focusing on.
9.Using a straw and cotton ball to make a game.
Get your child to blow through the straw, chasing the cotton ball along. If you like, you can even draw a road map onto a piece of paper and get your child to blow the ball from one place to another. This game exercises the oral muscles needed for speech.
10.Sing songs and nursery rhymes
Songs and rhymes contain rhythm and rhyme, skills that help with speech and literacy development.
11.Let your child lead – let your child lead the play, let them be the boss of play. This can build self-confidence and does not put pressure on them to talk and respond to the adult all the time.
12.Make every opportunity a language learning activity – if it’s a trip to the shops, or bath-time, you can make every activity a language learning activity. Point to things, name them, sing a nursery rhyme, or ask a question. You don’t have to set aside a specific time of day to learn language, every activity is a language learning activity.
All in all, the most important thing that I’ve found, is that hearing mom or dad, or brother or sister, as often as possible, is the best thing for your little one. Talk to them as much as possible, and hopefully real soon they’ll be talking along with you.
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