Jan 282013

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

Speech Development in Bilingual Children - Playing with Words 365 on Alldonemonkey.comAs 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.

Code Switching & TransfersSpeech Development in Bilingual Kids - Playing with Words 365 on Alldonemonkey.com

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.

The Myths

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.

Additional Resources

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.

  21 Responses to “Speech Development in Bilingual Children: Post from Playing with Words 365”

  1. Great post – thanks for sharing your expertise, Katie!

  2. Very helpful thanks! I had started questioning if my husband and I were doing the right thing talk to our baby in two languages from birth but this has made me feel a lot more positive about us doing the right thing!

  3. Thanks for sharing and so good to see you over here Katie! You’ve shared some very important information for families of bilingual children. I’ve pinned this to our Bilingual Babies board for other families to read.

  4. What a great post – love how you could pack so much information that is so important into one post! My youngest is going through a huge code switching phase as she acquires more fluency in her 3rd language and the stuff she says sometimes is so funny – we speak English, German and Italian, and sometimes it’s confusing but over all it’s really fun.

  5. Katie this blog is so well written! It’s clear, concise, parent friendly, and too the point. Your info is exactly what readers need to help understand mulitlingual language acquisition. I’m so glad you added the “silent period” info into this blog. Many teachers and yes even SLPs forget that! Thanks this is great! Sharing on my FB page! Oh and thanks for featuring this blog today All Done Monkey…it was great!

  6. […] her children to be bilingual. The post went up on Monday, and you can check it out on the blog HERE and leave me a comment…what do you […]

  7. This was so interesting to read. Thank you for sharing this and dispelling some of the myths.

  8. You touched every issue I have at home with my two bilingual children, and you are correct!!
    I hope someday it’ll pay all the effort I put towards my kids speaking our native language at home. Thanks

  9. Thanks again for letting me share this information on your blog! It is such a pleasure to be able to contribute to such great sites! 🙂

  10. Thanks again for letting me share this information on your blog! It is such a pleasure to be able to contribute to such great sites! 🙂 Hope everyone enjoys!

    • Katie, I am so thrilled to have you share this post here. It is such great information and very much needed!

  11. Thank you for this well-written article. I’m in my first year at an international school where 14 of my 15 Kindergarteners are ELL and this answered so many of my questions!

  12. This is fascinating! I shared it here: https://www.facebook.com/crittersandcrayons/posts/476552565739834 We live in a border city where English and Spanish intermingle in social and academic situations….our son is immersed in Spanish now, and I am happy I read this in case we see any of the things you highlight here. Thank you!

  13. As a a parent of two lovely soon-to-be bilingual kids, your article was of great interest to me. No matter how much I read on the subject, I can’t help tourmenting myself over how I should handle language teaching/learning for my children.

    • I feel your pain! It is a constant debate in our household as well, since the terrain is constantly shifting as our sons get older and enter into new environments and assert their own ideas!

  14. I’m currently studying about bilingualism and more specifically EAL learners and how they acquire English as L2 or L3. However, I am also curious about infants who are exposed to 4 languages from birth and how best to help support them in the language learning process.
    My daughter is 13 months old and is currently being spoken to and read to in the following languages by the following people:
    English : Both parents
    Spanish : Father
    Polish : Mother
    Mandarin Chinese: Nanny

    She is already able to understand phrases and words in each of the languages and is attempting to say words in what seems like Chinese.

    I am interested to hear from both a professional perspective and from ones own experiences.

  15. Hi there, I am a teacher at a primary school in a very multi-ethnic neighbourhood. There is one thing I still don’t understand. I get that it can take 5-7 years for kids to develop the CALP L2. I also get that we sometimes misdiagnose “catching up” in L2 as having a language disability. But if a bilingual student is struggling in his L2, how can we rule out a language disorder, especially if we cannot test for one in the first language? (If the first language is uncommon for example). Thanks so much for getting back to me on this.

  16. Is there a resource with other common transfers? I’ve noticed a lot of preposition errors with students and don’t think it warrants concern. Some Spanish influenced mistakes are obvious but others are not.

  17. Thanks for this reassuring article. It reflects so well our daughter’s current development. We use one language at home and one for school and any social environment. Her transference “errors” are hilarious and truly endearing.
    She’s now 5, and so far it seems to work for her, as when we visit the grandparents she interacts without difficulties.
    The tricky part is to sustain consistency at home, as she comes from school in a “English speaking”frame of mind, and she is reluctant to engage in Spanish.
    Playing is s o far the best way to unlock her Spanish. Any tips would be very welcome.
    Congratulations on your article and your blog.

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