Although English is Australia’s national language, its cultural diversity means that over 300 languages are spoken in Australian homes in the community! However, in some communities, there is a negative attitude towards bilingualism which can lead the child to abandon their home language.
Many children learn more than one language, and some even learn more than two. Knowing more than one language has its advantages including:
- being better at learning new words
- coming up with solutions to problems
- listening to others and connecting with others
- being more creative
Children who speak two or more languages fluently have also been found to perform better than monolingual children in some cognitive and linguistic tasks.
Learning a second language can happen at any age. There are two ways that children learn second language, simultaneous and sequential.
Simultaneous language development occurs when a child acquires two languages at the same before the age of 3. Simultaneous bilinguals achieve the same language development milestones as monolingual children. Simultaneous bilingual will babble, say their first words and combine words around the same time as their monolingual counterpart. Simultaneous bilingual children generally have the same proficiency in both the first and second language.
Sequential language development occurs when a child learns a second language after the learning of the first language has taken place, drawing on the knowledge from their first language. This is generally after the age of 3. A sequential bilingual would also not become more delayed.
Patton Tabors has described the developmental sequence in the way a sequential bilingual language development occurs:
So does knowing more than one language cause a language delay?
No. Knowing more than one language does not impact language development, and is not a burden for a child to learn two languages. Research has shown that children with language delays can also learn two languages. Bilingual children with conditions such as autism spectrum disorders are able to maintain both their home language and the language spoken in the community. They do not become more delayed if they learn two languages, however, their speech and languages difficulties will be present in both languages. It is important to note that learning difficulties in bilingual children don’t impair their language skills beyond that of monolingual children who face the same learning challenges.
What language should I be speaking to my child in?
Parents should be encouraged to communicate with their child in the language they know best, even if another language is spoken at school. By providing a good language model, your child will have a good understanding of their first language and will develop the skills to learn other languages.
What if my child has a language delay?
Even if your child has a language delay, continue using both languages. This will increase your child’s chances to talk, play and get to know other family members or people from the community. Hearing adults talk is not enough to learn languages. Have fun using your first language so that your child will be motivated to use it too.
- Talk to your child in your first language. Talk about your family, past events, interests, share jokes and even talk about your culture.
- Play and sing with your child in your first language. This provides your child to hear and use their first language while having fun.
- Read to them often and talk about the pictures. Reading helps children develop their listening, thinking and reading skills.
Clinical bottom line
Being bilingual does not cause communication disorders and has its advantages. Children learn language best from people who are fluent and speak that language well. Read, play and sing to help develop and keep your child’s first language.
Roseberry- McKibbin.C. (2007). Language disorders in children: A multicultural and case perspective. Boston, Pearson.
Australian Bureau of Statistics. http://www.abs.gov.au/