Growing Up Bilingual (Speech Question 3 of 7)

Dorothy Dougherty, MA, provides speech therapy for children just learning to speak, and she is the author of How to Talk to Your Baby. In this series, she answers the questions that new parents most frequently ask her.

My young child is growing up in a bilingual environment. How can I help him learn both languages?

What a wonderful advantage a young child has if he is able to understand and speak two languages. Recent scientific studies are telling us that exposing a young child to two or more languages actually stimulates brain development. Although many experts agree it may take longer for a child who is exposed to two or more languages at an early age to begin talking, usually by age three, most will learn to use both languages without a lot of effort. When your young child begins to say words and sentences, he may go through a period of mixing the two languages and begin to use vocabulary from both languages in the same sentences. He may also not have equal skills in both languages, as it is common for there to be more understanding than actual use of one language.

To make learning easier, experts believe you should expose your child to a consistent pattern. Allow him to associate each language with different people, places and situations. "One person, one language" is recommended, where each parents uses a different language with the child, or one language is used in the home and another outside the home. It is important to choose a consistent pattern that is easy for your family to adopt. Experts believe this method creates less confusion between the two languages.

Of course, your child will learn language more readily if she is involved in meaningful activities that require her to use the languages. He will also need to hear songs, stories, and lots of talk in both languages.

Question #1 -- Early Communication

Question #2 -- Learning the Meaning of Words

Question #4 -- Stuttering

Question #5 -- Sound Deadlines

Question #6 -- When Should I Be Concerned?

Question #7 -- Professional Speech Therapy