raising bilingual child and a speech delay - Mothering Forums

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#1 of 16 Old 02-07-2010, 01:18 PM - Thread Starter
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Both my DP and I are bilingual. I am Colombian and DP is Mexican. It is really important to us that our 2 year old be bilingual. However now at age 2 he has a 35 percent speech delay, which qualified him for Early Intervention services. I am pretty sure it is our fault. We spoke to our son in Spanglish, and I bet he is super confused. I switched (by my own choice) into only speaking to him in English because his speech delay really concerns me. However I am regretting it, and want to switch to Spanish because it is such a gift to speak both languages.

Has anyone else had this experience? How do you manage a significant speech delay and teaching your child both languages? I know a speech delay is normal-but I am still freaking out!


Karen, mother to a wonderful active three year old.
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#2 of 16 Old 02-07-2010, 02:55 PM
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I would drop the Spanglish and use all Spanish, all the time.

I know it is so stressful to hear that your kid is "behind" , but honestly a 35% delay doesn't sound that bad to me - not that I know anything about the subject, but it seems like it could be relatively normal range, esp given the language-mixing at home. I mean, he's 2. Einstein didn't talk until he was 4, right?

Your sig says you live in Chicago, which suggests he'll sort out his English eventually no matter what. Seriously, no child (barring global severe delays) ever fails to learn the community language. I would just switch to strictly Spanish at home.

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#3 of 16 Old 02-08-2010, 10:04 AM
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Totally normal. All the families I've known that raise their kids bilingual or more have speech delayed kids, simply because the kids have twice as much language to process and learn than monolingual kids. I'm not an expert, but I would check more for understanding than speaking. If he can understand what you say, don't worry too much. The speech will come along once he figures out what's what.

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#4 of 16 Old 02-08-2010, 02:12 PM
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My son didn't speak till age 2 1/2. I was sure he had autism or some other learning problem.

Today he's trilingual and a good student.

Was the delay my "fault" for teaching him English in France? Maybe, maybe not. It certainly didn't hurt. Actually, the worst suffered was me, thinking I was confusing my son. I really wanted him to speak English though!

Switching from Spanglish to English to Spanish is probably making the problem worse. He doesn't know what he's supposed to use with you! Better to stick to one language and let him sort out where he is supposed to use what.

I'm glad I stuck with it. Switching to French might have been worse. The next two children wouldn't have been bilingual either. Actually, the older two are in a bilingual program doing half their education in a third language, something they find easier, since they were already well established in English and French.

What is his passive understanding? Does he follow commands and instructions in both languages? Does he find other ways of communicating? How many words does he have in both languages? Remember that any word with meaning counts (my dd said "whoa whoa", the French doggy sound for any furry animal-these kinds of quirks count!) Please note that this is common in both first-borns and boys, as well as bilinguals...

While late speaking can be a symptom of a learning disorder, rarely if ever is it the ONLY symptom. I have a cousin with autism and know a few children and while some spoke later, that was actually the lesser of quite a few symptoms and/or behavior problems the child displayed. Trust your "mommy instincts" on this one!

ITA about the "Spanglish". Mixing the two could be confusing. Children do better when they can clearly see what is spoken where. Many parents mix and the children are still bilingual. Many don't manage it.

I thought that the 18 month=6 word rule was a little harsh. This is what they do back in California, before a ped explained it to me. It's basically a catch-all philosophy, not an indication that there is a problem. They are just systematically checking out all children who might be falling behind, to be sure they snag the ones who really do have a learning disorder of some sort. These issues are much, much easier to sort out early than waiting until the child falls behind in school years later.

Remember that two languages don't rule out a learning disorder but there's no more risk of this than with his monolingual peers. They just want to make sure no child "slips through the cracks". Make sure you get a ST who is supportive of multilingualism and works well with your son. A few sessions and it might all be over. Maybe he just needs a little push to actually talk. If you both work and have busy lives, perhaps it's just not happening as fast as it might. Don't feel guilty. Just take advantage of the extra help!

Two of my three would have been referred to ST if we lived in the U.S. Neither had any problems. Remember, years from now, no potential employer will say "Great that he's bilingual but he didn't speak till almost age 3. Not sure if we should then hire him..."

Lose the guilt. Stick with one language. Accept help that doesn't involve messing with your plans and don't worry about your son. You'll be trying to shut him up soon enough lol!
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#5 of 16 Old 02-14-2010, 04:52 PM
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read book "7 steps to raising a bilingual child", it has a lot of wonderful advice on the subject, and the author's kids a trilingual, and have been exposed to the languages since birth...
i know how frustrating it can be, my son didnt even start bubbling around the same time others did, but i think (and his doctor agrees) that this is the best way and the best timeto learn more than one language, so we'll keep on going.
that being said, i dont think mixing to languages into one is a good idea, maybe you can speak to him in english and your husband in spanish or vice versa. or do only spanish at home and let him pick up english outside the household and on tv...
good luck!
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#6 of 16 Old 02-15-2010, 04:35 AM
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mama2rey only in the US have i heard the idea of speech delays and bilingualism. i was raised in a country where trilingual if not more is normal. my bro and i were raised trilingual. i have never heard any one ever bring up speech delays because of manylingualism.

i doubt your son is confused. my dd was surrounded by languages around her the first 4 years of her life. she totally spoke 6 languages. her first 3 words were in 3 different languages. she figured out whom to use which language with. what was a struggle for me was i spoke to her in 3 languages and i couldnt make out when seh was speaking half words which language she was talking to me in.

i spoke at 9 months. dd spoke at months. my brother didnt utter his first word tilll he was 3. it wasnt a word. it was a whole sentence. and he never shut up after that. he even sleep talked.

however the fact that children will struggle with many languages is a concept i have only heard brought up here. not even in europe where my cousin grew up surrounded by at least 4 languages and she is at home with all 4 of them.

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#7 of 16 Old 02-15-2010, 09:45 AM
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When my son was two he wasn't speaking in sentences yet and if he said a word in one language, he usually didn't say it in the other language. So boat was always "bateau" but red he always said in English, etc.

When he was 3 and speaking more he mixed the languages like crazy. I can remember some specific phrases "Donne-me some l'eau please" and "Pas look at me comme ca, Papa!"

From age 4 on he was mixing the languages less and less as his vocabulary in each grew.

He still makes some grammatical mistakes (he's 8 now) and often it is because he is applying the grammar rule from the other language, so he occasionally makes errors in English that would be typical of a French speaker and, more often, he makes errors in French typical of an English speaker. He keeps making progress though so the errors become less numerous as time passes.

He is doing fine and speaks both languages. There are times I speak French to him, I always read a book in the language it's written in and there have even been times that we, the parents, have mixed the languages ourselves. Although it's probably better to avoid doing that too much, I do think it all works out in the end.
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#8 of 16 Old 02-18-2010, 12:36 AM
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My dd2 has profound apraxia (massive speech disorder). I was sure that sooner or later some Early Intervention or other speech therapist would recommend dropping the second language, but no one ever did.

My little joke is that she can't speak in two languages, har har. She understands everything in both languages. We'll just continue on in our merry little way. Good luck!

DD1 = 8 yrs *** DD2 = 6 yrs
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#9 of 16 Old 02-18-2010, 02:36 AM
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Another speech delayed, bilingual kid here. It's not noticable unless you put her next to a 'normal' 5 yo. She didn't string together words until she was 3. We read, and speak to each other quite a bit, but she's still coming along. Our rule is one language per parent. It's English when the whole family is together, but otherwise, DH speaks Arabic with her and I speak English. This is what is recommended by experts, so I've been told.

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#10 of 16 Old 02-20-2010, 10:53 PM
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We're raising our son bilingual. We never get him tested for anything, because doctors are all bunk with their arbitrary requirements. 35% speech delay? Puh-lease. Everyone is different. *I* know my son is normal (smart in fact), and even if he's not saying very many words at age 2, I don't give a flip. He'll be talking eventually; we're letting him take his own rhythm.

I would stop taking him to get tested for these kinds of things if I were you. The people doing the testing probably have no idea what being bilingual means.
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#11 of 16 Old 02-21-2010, 11:54 PM
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last year there was a thread with lots of people saying that no, there arn't more delays because of pluri-lingualism ...

+ each child is different
+ boys/girls are different in language learning

my eldest learned english in the US at the same time as learning reading and writing at 6, she retained both languages and has always read extensively in both

my second had a speech delay at 4, diagnosed right when we moved to US, but couldn't see any specialist because he hadn't learnt english yet.
took him at least 7 months to learn english, BUT THEN he stopped wanting to speak french = I freaked out (what about his future? what have we done with that move ? etc ...), he got help at school in the US, then we moved again 3 years later and he started school in France with NO recollection of French AT ALL although we had arrived 7 weeks beforehand (I freaked out some more), took him about 3-4 months to re-learn to speak French, I let the english homework drop for 8 months, he got to see a speech therapist for about 20 sessions, the french "r" sound was the hardest to come back ... he CAN speak some english now but is less fluent than his eldest sister so I try to up exposure to english ...

my third child heard mainly english for 14 months then mainly french (I mean for the community language, because at home I usually speak english= his language, to my DH, and DH speaks my language, french, most of the time , to the kids I used to speak mainly the language of the country we were living in but now it's more of a mix, depending on mood, what is said and to whom)
that last baby was a late talker, over here the "rule of thumb" is maybe less strict than in the US, it's rather "a two word sentence by age 2" ... which she didn't utter at that age anyway, she could understand but only started talking at 27 months ....

we haven't done what the experts say (one language, one parent) and each child is turning out different ....
I should think that it's too artificial to restrict each parent to his or her native language only .... (+ doing so you are NOT modelling being bilingual !!!)

= make the most of any opportunity for exposure to languages anyway

you can offer the possibility to speak a language, you cannot really force someone to speak a language or another (or is my son so very stuborn ? i think...he would say "it's difficult" ...I had to learn to accept that he was a different learner than my eldest ....)

= it's fine to have great expectations, it's great to offer a lot of exposure BUT THEN it's necessary to respect the personality of the child .... and their choice of what to speak might not be what you would like or forecasted

+ we live in a run down area with a large foreign population, that means that arabic is offered 3 times a week at elementary school & my two eldest were accepted in the class although we, parents, are not arabic speakers ...
when I freaked out about my son a few years ago, I had no idea he would /would be able to/would wish to learn the basics in another language we don't even speak ourselves ...

not only each child is different but also each child changes as they grow up ...
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#12 of 16 Old 02-22-2010, 12:23 AM
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I second that you will be drop Spanglish and just speech to him in Spanish or English. My oldest is totally bilingual, and some people said before she was delay, but not she's s bilingual in speech, writtinng and reading , and she's not even 5 yo.We just speech Spanish at home and English is everywhere. She can understand also Portuguese.

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#13 of 16 Old 02-22-2010, 02:57 PM
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Originally Posted by joynsyde View Post
He'll be talking eventually; we're letting him take his own rhythm.
I would stop taking him to get tested for these kinds of things if I were you.

Sorry. Carry on. I'm sure I'm just projecting.

DD1 = 8 yrs *** DD2 = 6 yrs
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#14 of 16 Old 02-22-2010, 09:24 PM
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I would agree to loose the "spanglish" and use either Spanish and/or English.

We are doing French/English with DD. Dad uses French and I use English. She's only 7 1/2 months though, so we'll see how it goes....

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#15 of 16 Old 02-28-2010, 12:44 PM
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Speech delays, or better said, delayed verbal output in speech in bilingual children is normal.

First time parents need to be patient. The delay can be even one or two years compared to monolingual speakers, no need to worry. But after that, your child will speak all languages at age-appropriate levels if the languages are constantly used.

Your greatest challenge later on will be to conserve your mother language in your host country, introducing some methodic language use in your home, like OPOL etc, if you would like bilingualism (or multilingualism) for your children.

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#16 of 16 Old 03-10-2010, 04:57 PM
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My DD (second kid) was a late talker (2 1/2 for more than few words, 3 for two to three word sequences, 3 1/2 for consistent sentence use). I went to one early intervention test and they wanted follow up testing but I decided against it because she was making progress and they were rather anti-other language. We speak pretty much Russian all the time so I really don't think she's "bilingual" yet because other language exposure is minimal. I just started a few months ago discreetly working on English with her as "lessons" most evenings for 15-20 minutes with rhymes and books -- and when I read to her in English I talk to her in English even if she can't answer right now.

I agree with others that probably just Spanish right now is the way to go. I would concentrate on the rate of progress. I still panic once in a while with DD because she's still not much of a talker but her progress is consistent and steady, so I figure we are doing something right, although I have no way of telling right now if the progress should be faster.
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