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  • Writer's pictureTiffany J Chen

Two Language ≠ Double Trouble

Is this typical for my child? My child is hearing so many different languages at home, is she understanding everything? I have come across these questions quite often while talking to parents of a bilingual family. If you have similar thoughts here are some information that might clear any doubts you have for your child!

Is it a language difference or a language disorder?

This is most critical question us SLPs want to address first, and here is what these terms mean-

Language Difference: When your child has difficulty in one language, but is fluent, or age-appropriate in another language.

Language Disorder: When your child has difficulty in both or all languages they are exposed to.

Why is it important to make a differential diagnosis?

This is so important! Even if you must find a bilingual service provider to make that assessment!!

If your child has a language difference, this means your child is already capable of learning their first language (L1). They are taking awhile transferring their language skills and learning the second language (L2). Be consistent and stick with how you are communicating at home. Rest assured, you child is on their way of being bilingual in two languages!

If your child has a language disorder, this means your child still needs to be supported in L1. Don't worry, continue to speak to your child in the most comfortable language you use at home. Include your child in conversations, and do not give up!! Seek an SLP for guidance and support. Once your child has established his/her language skills in L1, they will have sufficient ability to make gains in L2.

How can you tell if my child has a language disorder or a language gap?

1. Fast-mapping: Children have the ability to learn a new word given very little opportunity exposed to the context.

What it tells you: If your child can remember and tell you a new word they learned after seeing or hearing about it a few times, then they've got the skills to learn new vocabulary in whatever language they are learning!!

2. Narratives: The ability to tell a story, a past experience, or an event.

What it tells you: If your child can tell you a story in one language, and you can understand it without any trouble, most likely, your child is already using the language fluently! They have the words they need to use in the language, they understand what sounds are used in the language, and how they can form sentences to explain the story.

3. Non-word repetition: Repeating made-up words from sounds they hear in the languages they learn.

What it tells you: If your child can repeat 1-5 syllables of made-up words using the sounds in L1 or L2, that tells you that your child can hear the differences of the sounds in the language you speak. Furthermore, they have the ability to memorize the sound pattern and tell it back to you. This means that your child has the skills to learn the sounds and speak another language!

Recommendations from an SLP:

  • Never, never, never give up on your home language!

  • Keep being consistent with the language you speak at home

  • If you are concerned about your child's language development, find an SLP that understands the language you speak. They will make the best judgement whether this is a typical phase in learning two or more languages!

  • Trust your SLP, with some time and effort, we will get your child going places!

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