What is Bilingualism
The Royal College of Speech and Language Therapy (RCSLT) states that:
Bilingualism is the ability to understand and/or use two or more languages.
Your child is bilingual if…
> He/she is learning two languages from birth or before the age of three (known as simultaneous bilingualism)
> He/she has been regularly exposed to a second language after the age of three (known as sequential bilingualism)
Children are born with the ability to naturally acquire language and can differentiate between the sounds of the world’s languages from an early age. This ability is usually lost by the end of the first year of life as the child learns to ‘tune in’ to the language(s) that s/he hears. The language that the child is exposed to at home will typically become their ‘home language’ and English will be learnt through exposure.
Did you know…?
> It takes about 2 years to acquire social and conversational English to a near native proficiency.
> It takes about 5-7+ years to learn the academic English needed for explaining, talking succinctly, and learning at school.
> Bilingual children entering English speaking nursery/school for the first time often go through a ‘silent’ stage for a few months; it will usually go away.
> Children with strong home language skills learn additional languages more easily.
> Children who drop their home language take longer to acquire abstract academic language in an additional language.
> Developing your child’s vocabulary in their home language helps them to acquire these concepts in their additional language.
> If your bilingual child is struggling to learn to talk in their home language, simplifying to just one language does not help.
> https://literacytrust.org.uk/resources/understanding-bilingualism-early-years – This gives information about bilingualism in young children and includes resources in many different languages.
> https://www.evelinalondon.nhs.uk/resources/patient-information/community-slt-language-guide-bilingual.pdf – This leaflet gives information about how to help your bilingual child to develop their home language.
> https://www.bilingualism-matters.ppls.ed.ac.uk/parents-questions/ – This gives ‘frequently asked questions’ about bilingualism in many different languages.
> http://learnenglishkids.britishcouncil.org/en – This gives information and ideas for learning English as an Additional Language.
What Should I Do?
> Talk to your child in your strongest language. If we speak in a language that doesn’t come easily, children will learn our mistakes.
> In multilingual families, you could try one-language-one-parent, where you each speak a different language to the child.
> Be confident to use your home language when out and about, and help your child be proud of their language. However if you feel your child needs more exposure to English, you could try using the home language at home, and English outside the home.
> Keep speaking to your child in your home language even if he or she responds in a different language; simply repeat back what they have said in your home language, and if they are older, talk to them about the importance of learning their home language.
> It’s okay for your child to mix up their two languages into the same sentence; it’s a normal part of learning two languages. It’s also okay for you to mix two languages into one sentence when you speak to your child.
> Try to let your child play with other children who speak your home language.
> Sing songs and rhymes and read books and watch TV together in your home language
> Stay in touch with family and friends by talking together in your home language via Skype or writing and messaging.
> Choose a nursery/school that will provide a language rich environment, with opportunities for your child to use their home language.
> If you’re worried about your child’s speech and language development, talk to your Health Visitor, Nursery or GP, or ask to see a Speech & Language Therapist.
When to Refer?
When to refer:
> Poor understanding and use of language in both languages
> Not following familiar routines
> No or reduced response to both languages
> No attempts to communicate using language, babble, gesture, facial expression or other means
> Attention and Listening difficulties
> Showing little or no interest in play or interaction with peers
> Reduced eye contact – however this can be cultural
> Repetitive play or behaviour
> Restrictive or sensory behaviours
> Family history of Speech, Language or Communication difficulties or different pattern to siblings