Bilingualism and Language Development in Children

What is bilingualism?
A person is bilingual if they speak two languages.

Do you have to be equally proficient in both languages to be bilingual?
No. Often a bilingual speaker is stronger in one language than the other.

Do bilingual children learn both languages at the same time?
Children who are brought up bilingual may acquire both languages at the same time or one after the other.

My child is learning two languages together and often mixes the languages up.
This is a normal part of bilingual language acquisition. At first your child may use the grammatical rules and some words of one language in the other language they are acquiring. Eventually, your child will learn that there are two separate languages and will be able to switch between them when speaking with different people.

My child has just started learning English at preschool and isn’t talking much.
It is common for children to go through a quiet stage when first exposed to a new language. It is thought that at this time they are processing the language and building an understanding.

My first language is not English. Should I speak English to my child at home?
Children learn language by listening to other people. It is important you speak to your child in a language you are strong in. Learning a first language well can give your child the skills for learning a second language. If you are not strong in English you can provide a better language model by speaking to your child in your first language. Speaking your first language at home is also extremely important for retaining your child’s skills in your language.

My child has difficulty speaking English. Does this mean she has a language disorder?
Not necessarily. If your child speaks her first language well, it is likely she does not have a language disorder and will become proficient in English with time and exposure. On the other hand, if your child has difficulty in your home language and in English, an underlying language disorder is more likely.

How can I help my child learn English?
Exposure to English is the key. Have your child participate in activities where English is spoken. Some activities include preschool, playgroup and the local park.

Information sourced from Owens Robert E. (2001). Language Development, an Introduction (5th Ed.) Needham Heights. Allyn & Bacon