Myths: Second Language Acquisition

"We used to speak to our son in both English and our native languages, but we were told to only use one because he has a language delay."

How many times have we, as SLPs, heard this statement from a parent? Every time I hear it, I can't help but feel a little tug in my chest. Anyone that knows me, knows that family, tradition, language, and culture are everything to me. I could not imagine being "isolated" from these experiences and missing out on the things that helped define me as a person just because someone thought it would be "too much" for me to handle. It is not appropriate to simplify a child's exposure to a single language in a bilingual household.

To this I say, "ditch the 'hearsay' and embrace the research". Research on second language acquisition for children with language delays/disorders is an area that needs to be expanded, however, there's enough for us to make clinical applications. We can help our families

Consider the family's needs. What is important to them? If speaking multiple languages is important to them, then encourage them provide rich language experiences for their child in these languages. At the end of the day, the family should take the lead in this decision. Think about how it will affect the child- will they be isolated from specific family members who ONLY speak a different language? 

Remember: children who have true language delays/disorders will be expressed in ALL of their languages.

Bruck, M. (1982). Language impaired children’s performance in an additive bilingual education program. Applied Psycholinguistics3, 45–60.

Kay-Raining Bird, E., Cleave, P., Trudeau, N., Thordardottir, E., Sutton, A. & Thorpe, A. (2005). The language abilities of bilingual children with Down Syndrome. American Journal of Speech-Language Pathology14, 187-199.