Speech Development in Bilingual Children: Post from Playing with Words 365
While we are enjoying some extra snuggle time with the Monkeys, we are so pleased to be able to bring you a series of posts from some of our favorite bloggers.
Today we are so excited to share a post with you from Katie of Playing with Words 365. I first met Katie through Kid Blogger Network, and whenever I have questions about blogging or parenting, Katie is always quick to jump in with a sympathetic word and helpful advice. So when I asked for help with guest posts, guess who was one of the first to volunteer!
While most of us blog about bilingualism based on anecdotal experience with our own kids, Katie is a speech language pathologist with fifteen years of experience working with kids of all abilities. Translation: she actually knows what she’s talking about!
So I was thrilled when Katie suggesting doing a post on speech development in bilingual children. Most of us raising our children to be bilingual have to combat misconceptions (and our own self-doubt) about the effect this choice will have on our little ones. Plus, as with any parent, we wonder if our children’s development is typical and what we can do to help them along. So thank you, Katie, for this fantastic post!
Speech Development in Bilingual Children
As a speech language pathologist, I am asked all the time about language development in children raised with more than one language, so I was thrilled when I was given this opportunity to share some information on this subject here on All Done Monkey!
Bilingualism: The Different Types
There are two ways children become bilingual: Simultaneous Language Acquisition and Sequential Language Acquisition. Simultaneous language acquisition is when a child is exposed to 2 languages from infancy in natural situations. This often happens when both parents speak two language to a child or one parent each speaks a different language to the child (or caregivers). In this type of acquisition, interference between L1 (Language one) and L2 (language 2) is typically minimal. These children tend to speak their first words and word combinations at the same time as children who speak just one language (monolingual) children (Kayser, 2002 as cited in Roseberry-McKibbin, 2003).
Sequential language acquisition is when a child is exposed to L1, or the first language, during infancy, and learns L2, the second language, at a later time. In this type of acquisition, children may show greater diversity in rates and stages of acquisition of the languages (Kayser, 2002; Langdon, 1992 as cited in Roseberry-McKibbin, 2003). A child learning a second language manifests normal characteristics and processes as the second language is being acquired. Some of these characteristics include a silent period, language loss, code switching, and transfer.
The Silent Period & Language Loss
In the early stages of learning a second language (L2), most students focus on comprehension and do very little speaking, particularly when L2 is introduced in the preschool years. Children introduced to a second language (L2) during the preschool years may speak very little in L1 or L2 for an extended period of time (Brice, 2002; Hakuta, 1978; Krashen, 1992; Schiff-Myers, 1992; Tabors, 1997 as cited in Roseberry-McKibbin, 2003). This is referred to as the “silent period”. If L2 is introduced sequentially before a strong L1 language foundation has been established (6-8 years of age), L1 development may slow or even regress while L2 is being learned (Cummins, 1992; Schiff-Myers, 1992 as cited in Roseberry-McKibbin, 2003). This is known as language loss. For example, if a Spanish only speaking child is introduced to English in preschool at age 3, he may stop speaking very much in Spanish for a while as he is trying to learn English. Coltrane (2003, pp. 1-2 as cited in Roseberry-McKibbin, 2003) states that “For children younger than 5, many aspects of their first language have not fully developed. So while older learners have the foundation of a fully developed first language when they begin acquiring a new language, younger English language learners are working toward two milestones at the same time: the full development of their native language and the acquisition of English. Ideally, to best prevent L1 language loss (also referred to as subtractive bilingualism) children should experience additive bilingualism, where they learn English while their first language and culture are maintained and reinforced.
In addition to the silent period and language loss, code switching is a common phenomenon observed in bilingual children (Brice and Anderson, 1999 as cited in Roseberry-McKibbin, 2003). This refers to when children or adults alternate between the two languages within a single phrase, sentence, or discourse. Another common process seen in second language learners is transfer. When students are learning a second language, they make errors that reflect the influence of their first language. For example, a Spanish speaking child may say “The car blue” in English, rather than “The blue car”. This is a transfer from L1 and not a sign of problems with syntax in English. Transfer can occur in all areas including syntax, morphology, phonology, semantics, and pragmatics. These errors of transfer are not signs of a communication disorder, but rather indicate a language difference.
Social vs. Academic Language Acquisition
It is important to understand that here are different timelines for learning social vs. academic language. Under ideal conditions, it takes the average second-language learner two years to acquire Basic Interpersonal Communication Skills (BICS). BICS involves the context-embedded, everyday language that occurs between conversational partners. On the other hand, Cognitive Academic Language Proficiency (CALP), or the context-reduced language of academics, takes five to seven years under ideal conditions to develop to a level commensurate with that of native speakers. Unfortunately, this places many children learning English as a second language at some point in their development in a BICS-CALP gap. Meaning, these children may have developed conversational English that appears fluent and adequate for everyday communication however they still struggle with CALP and may then have difficulty in academic areas which may lead professionals to falsely assume that the children have language-learning disabilities when in reality they are still developing their language skills. These children do not have language delays/disorders, but rather continue to have a language difference.
Now that we have gone over the basics of second language learning, let’s clear up some myths!
MYTH: Bilingualism causes delays in language development.
FALSE: Research on bilingualism has proven this myth to be very false. If a bilingual child is struggling in the area of speech and language development, he should be evaluated for a language disorder not attributed to a second language.
MYTH: If you want your child to speak the language of his peers (a second language), you must stop speaking your home language to him
FALSE: There is no evidence to suggest that this is an effective method for your child to learn the language of his peers. For example, if you speak Spanish at home, you can continue to speak Spanish at home when you send your child to an English speaking preschool.
Bilingualism in young Children: Separating fact from Fiction by Lauren Lowry, SLP, for The Hanen Centre
Are Two Languages Better Thank One? By Lauren Lowry, SLP, for The Hanen Centre
Roseberry-McKibbin (2003). Assessment of Bilingual Learners: Language Difference or Disorder? an American Speech-Language Hearing Association Professional Development Program.
Katie is a a mom to two little ones, E (4) and Ev (23 months) and a licensed and credentialed pediatric speech-language pathologist (when she finds the time). She blogs over at Playing With Words 365, sharing information about speech and language development, intervention strategies, therapy ideas and tips, and shares a little about her family and their life too. You can follow along on Facebook or Pinterest for more speech and language ideas and tips.