Becoming Bilingual for Children with Developmental Delays

If you want to teach your child with a language delay to speak two languages but were afraid it wouldn’t be possible or even worse, could be harmful, you’re in for good news! Learning two languages is possible and beneficial for children with language delays. Here is what the research is saying about learning two languages for our children with developmental delays


  • Learning two languages will not slow down your child’s language development.


Teaching your child your native language will not slow down his progress in learning English (or whichever language is the official language of your country.)  Studies have shown that learning two languages will not further delay your child’s language or cause your child to become confused. Your child may find learning language to be difficult, which is why hopefully you are working closely with her speech therapist and other childhood educators to find how she best learns language. Even though learning language may seem challenging for her, she is still very capable of learning two languages. Almost all children who are capable of speaking one language are capable of speaking two languages. In fact, learning two languages has many benefits.


  • The brain benefits from being bilingual!


There are many benefits for the brain of a bilingual child. Billingual children have shown greater abilities in their attention span and their memory. Although these same studies have not been done on children with language delays, these are skills that children with language delays often struggle with and learning two languages may provide them with another way to sharpen these thinking skills. Children with language delays may also gain more awareness of language, how language works, and how it sounds by comparing two different languages.


  • Your child benefits socially from being bilingual.


A child who can speak the language spoken by his family and his community as well as the official language will have more opportunities to practice language, to socialize, and to feel included. Bilingual children also show better perspective taking skills, meaning it gives them a boost in learning to look at something from another person’s point of view.


  • A baby’s brain has more flexibility in learning two languages but it is never too late!


       In some cases, children do show more flexibility and ability to be fluent in languages when taught both languages at the same time from the time he is a baby. Please understand though this does not mean you translate everything you’re saying to your child (please see handout on how to teach two languages to avoid some common mistakes.) Stronger vocabularies, longer sentences, and less grammatical errors in both languages happen when babies have exposure to both languages from birth. Even if you don’t speak the official language fluently, you can work with early educators, family members, and friends to help support learning both languages.


  • Yes, it will require a little more planning on the part of everyone working with your child.


If your child has a language delay, you’ll need to consider how you’ll give him the reinforcement he needs to learn both languages. Some parents take for granted that their child will be bilingual just by speaking to him during your daily routine. While this may be true for some children, if your child has special needs, he is going to need more active opportunities to learn your home language and the official language spoken outside the home. For more information on the research, please click on this link to visit the bilingual blog.

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