An SLP’s Response to Parent Concerns about Bilingualism and Speech Development

woman talking to a mother about the impact of bilingualism on speech development

Many parents are concerned about the impact of bilingualism and speech development for their child. 

What is bilingualism?

A person is bilingual when they speak two languages. 

Speaking two languages is even possible for young children! A child may be bilingual by learning two languages at once or by learning a second language after they have begun learning their first. 

Developmental Information for Bilingual Children

First Words

Just like monolingual children, most bilingual children speak their first words by the time they are 1 year old and use two-word phrases by the age of 2.

Mixing Languages

Children may mix the grammar rules of their two languages on occasion. They might also mix languages within sentences while they are speaking. This happens naturally as a child develops both languages. 

Silent Period

For some children, there is a “silent period” that may happen when they begin speaking a second language. You will know this is happening if they have almost suddenly stopped talking as much as they used to. 

This period can last for several months. It is a normal part of the bilingual process and will stop. Try not to worry and continue to talk to your child frequently during this time (American Speech-Language Hearing Association, ASHA). 

Common Concerns

parents may have concerns about bilingualism

As a parent of a child with a language delay, it’s normal to feel some level of guilt (even though there’s really no need!). Unfortunately, parents of bilingual children may feel this guilt at a heightened level. 

It’s natural that you have questions and concerns about the reason for language delays and how to move forward with communication with your child. 

Is bilingualism causing a language delay?

When a child has a language delay, parents are often concerned that speaking a second language at home is the reason.

Studies have NOT shown a link between exposure to a second language and language delay. A second language doesn’t confuse children.

According to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, if a bilingual child has a true language delay, it will show up in both languages. It is important to note that learning another language does NOT cause speech or language problems and will not make one worse. 

mother playing with her bilingual child

Should we speak both languages to our child?

Speak to your child in the language you know best even if it is different from what your child is exposed to at daycare or school. 

Use the same language strategies throughout play and daily routines that you would use with young English-only children:

  • Narrate using simple words and phrases
  • Be repetitive
  • Use gestures
  • Incorporate songs

What if there is not an SLP who speaks our native language?

It’s always best to work with a bilingual SLP who specializes in treating children in your child’s natural language, but this isn’t always possible. 

When it isn’t, choose an SLP who can work with an interpreter who speaks your child’s natural language. The interpreter can be involved in therapy sessions face-to-face or virtually

Benefits of Bilingualism

Many children around the world learn two (or more!) languages. The number of bilingual speakers in the US continues to grow. Data suggests that 22% of children hear or speak another language at home and 56% of children of immigrants are bilingual. 

The most common languages spoken in the US by bilingual speakers are English and Spanish. Knowing more than one language can be beneficial to your child’s now if you live in a multilingual community and/or their future as they successfully go into the workforce.

Bilingual children also often have an easier time: 

  • Learning new vocabulary
  • Reading
  • Using information in new ways
  • Categorizing words
  • Problem solving
  • Listening 
  • Building connections with others (ASHA)

Bilingual children are lucky little ones! 

Looking for tips to support your child’s language development at home? Join us for a caregiver webinar!



The views expressed in this blog are my own and are intended to inspire other speech-language pathologists in their own practice. If you are a parent, teacher or other educator, these ideas are not intended to take the place of treatment by a certified clinician. Read full disclaimer here.