Can Learning two languages at the same time slow language development?

Can Learning two languages at the same time slow language development?

Nope. Research on children who have been exposed to two languages from birth has shown that this exposure does not negatively affect language development in either language. Most studies agree that these children develop their spoken vocabulary and grammar at similar rates in toddler-hood and into the preschool years in each of the languages they were exposed to from birth.

Children develop a vocabulary “list” in each of the languages they are learning. This builds on the sounds and sound patterns of two languages that they learned as infants (see the article from April 4). The vast majority of the words in this list don’t “cross-over” (the child has only one word for each thing, and this word is only in one language). Where the very young child (say, a toddler) may have a word for “apple” in English, he/she likely won’t have the same word in, say, Arabic. This is why some may think there is a delay in language development. There isn’t; the child is keeping two mostly distinct lists of words, and so it looks like he/she is delayed if each language is examined separately.

A really interesting thing that happens is that kids flip back and forth between their languages as they speak. Usually they use the grammar of the language they speak most often and fill-in words or phrases from the other language. Adults do it, too: it drives my wife nuts when I get together with my sisters, because we often flip back and forth between languages for entire conversations! (For those who are interested, the technical term for what we are doing is called “code-switching”).

Studies in elementary school-aged kids have shown that those kids whose skills were equal in English and French showed higher scores on tests of verbal ability than kids who spoke one language (English or French). Fully bilingual adults have been shown to have advantages in several domains of brain function (the list is pretty long).

So what’s the message here?

Don’t worry if your kids are learning two languages at the same time. Knowing and using more than one language can only be beneficial in the long run. In Canada, we are fortunate to have a second official language, with many schools in the country offering French immersion programs, in addition to all schools offering French language courses into the high school years.

As always, if you have concerns about your child’s speech and language development, don’t “wait and see.” You can make a referral using our secure online referral form and get the answers you need regarding your child’s speech and language development.


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