You have a bilingual child and you want to seek help from a speech and language therapist because you are worried about your child’s language development.
There is a problem.
Your child and the speech therapist do not speak the same language!
At least not very well.
This blog post is all about what information you should give to the speech therapist about your bilingual child.
‘’We live in the UK and speak only Portuguese in the home. My 4-year-old daughter has been hearing Portuguese since birth. We are a bit worried about her language development since she shows some warning signs. Therefore, we want to make sure that there is nothing wrong. We will see a speech therapist but unfortunately, there is no Portuguese-speaking speech therapist in our city.’’
This story comes up over and over again.
WHY IS IT DIFFICULT FOR A SPEECH THERAPIST TO ASSESS YOUR BILINGUAL CHILD?
There is nothing wrong with speaking your language with your child! It is usually recommended that parents speak their language (which can usually be the minority language) with their children so that the child grows up bilingually.
But your child’s proficiency levels in the society (majority) and home (minority) language can be uneven.
This is normal for bilingual children.
But what happens when you take your bilingual child to a speech therapist?
Speech and language therapists have great tools to assess a child’s language skills. BUT these tools are often in the majority language. Thus, it is important that the parents have an idea of what to look for in their child’s language development so that they can inform the therapist as best as they can.
In this way, the therapist will have much easier time to understand whether the child needs intervention or not.
As a parent of a bilingual kiddo, there are many ways that you can track your child’s language development yourself. You can inform the speech and language therapist in the best way possible. Even if the therapist can’t speak your child’s stronger language (some say dominant language, but I like to say stronger language :)).
You, as a bridge between your child and the therapist, can do wonders!
Read on the rest of the post and see the 7 things you must talk about with your bilingual child’s speech therapist!
Bilingual child at speech therapy. What parents should know about their bilingual child:
1. Your child’s language use during the day
The language skills of bilingual children are related to how much they hear and use a language during the day.
Very important to know this.
Tell the speech therapist since when your child has been hearing the languages. Since birth or later?
Talk about how many hours a day your child hears and uses the languages and in what contexts.
What languages your child hears at home?
How often does your child hear the society (majority) language during a day?
This basic information will help the speech therapist understand your child’s language skills a bit more.
2. Your child’s language background
Children with a language disorder are usually late talkers.
Think about when your child said the first words.
We expect bilingual children to say their first words around 8-15 months. Some children may start talking later and this is an important piece of information for your child’s speech therapist.
Some studies showed that late talking can be an early sign of a developmental language disorder.
3. Your family’s language background
Children with a language disorder may have someone in their family with a history of a language disorder.
Think about all your close family members and relatives…
Have you heard the story of a cousin that had started talking very late, or had all sorts of language difficulties?
This is important to communicate with your child’s speech therapist.
4. Your child’s language skills in the dominant language
Children with a language disorder may have difficulties in comprehension too
Here what you want to make sure is you want to see if your child can understand you when you don’t point or use gestures. Telling your child ‘’wash your hands’’ without using gestures or ‘’ put on your shoes’’ without pointing at the shoes, is what I mean.
Depending on your child’s age, his understanding abilities will be different.
A 5-year-old child can understand much longer directions than a 3-year-old.
Learning about the language development milestones can give you information idea about what your child can understand at a certain age.
Observe and take notes about your child’s comprehension.
Children with a language disorder can make various grammatical errors
Bilingual children with language disorders make mistakes in all their languages.
Language disorders can manifest themselves differently in each language. For this reason, it is difficult to point out the particular mistakes your child would make.
Bilingual children without language disorders can make grammatical mistakes too. Many of these mistakes occur in their second language. These mistakes can resemble the mistakes that children with language disorders make.
You may not be a language professor. But you can still tell if your child makes unusual mistakes that are not suitable for his/her age group. Trust your judgment.
Don’t look only for mistakes though. Look for what your child CAN DO as well. You will be surprised how much your child can do!
Children with a language disorder may have difficulties in learning new words
Another thing we see in children with language disorders is their difficulty in learning new words. Sometimes no matter how many times they hear a word they-can-not-learn!
Or it takes much longer for them to learn a new word.
Keep track of your child’s work learning abilities. You can find a ‘word tracker’ in this free booklet as well.
5. Your child’s pragmatic language skills
Children with a language disorder may have pragmatic difficulties.
Pragmatic difficulties can affect how children communicate and understand other people’s needs.
It is common for children with a language disorder to miss the big picture of a story. They may;
Respond to your questions with irrelevant answers.
Not manage to stay on topic during a conversation.
Have difficulties with simple tasks such as greeting others.
How is your child in this regard?
6. How your child tells stories
Children with a language disorder may have difficulties in telling a coherent story
Children’s storytelling abilities improve with age. Children younger than 4 years old can tell a lot of stories, but they may not be able to talk about the goals, emotions of the characters. But they can describe the pictures in a book in more detail and talk about the actions of the characters. But a 6- or 8-year-old child can talk about a temporal sequence of events, feelings, and goals of the characters.
A child with a language disorder may have an insufficient vocabulary, problems with grammar, or pragmatic difficulties. These will affect storytelling negatively.
They may miss the important theme or main idea of a story. They may also have difficulties talking about the goals and emotions of the main characters or cause-effect relationships.
How does your child tell a simple story to you?
7. Your child’s attention span
Children with a language disorder may have attention difficulties too
Some studies have found that children with language impairment may have attention difficulties.
The attention span at each age is different. As children grow older, their ability to attend actively on a task increases. For instance, 4- or 5-year-old can focus on a task between 8-20 minutes, depending on the task.
Having attention difficulties does not necessarily show there is a language disorder. But it is one of the things to look out for. The speech therapist will appreciate this information.
LET’S SUMMARIZE WHAT YOU SHOULD TALK ABOUT WHEN YOU SEE A CHILD’S SPEECH-THERAPIST FOR YOUR BILINGUAL CHILD
The information you will give here is about the stronger or first language of your child. The language that the therapist cannot assess.
- When did your child start hearing the language? Since birth or later?
- How often does your child hear the language during the day and from which sources (parents, television, computer, friends, relatives, etc.)
- When did your child produce his/her first words and word combinations?
- Is there anyone in the family who has had speech and language difficulties? Think about the extended family too. What was it?
- How does your child learn new words? Is it easy or difficult?
- How is your child’s ability to understand when you give directions or ask a question?
- How does your child tell a story? Can your child stay on topic? Does s/he understand and talk about the cause-effect relationships? Can s/he talk about the theme, emotions, and goals of the characters at all?
- Does your child answer what you asked or gives you irrelevant answers?
- Can your child only talk about what s/he likes or take others’ perspectives into account?
- How is your child’s attention? Do you think that your child has difficulties in focusing?
When you see a speech therapist remember to be as clear and true as possible. Focus on your child’s abilities and language background.
Even though you may expect ‘more’ from your child, focus on the current situation. Give examples of what your child CAN and CANNOT do, instead of ‘what you wish your child could do’.
The more and clearer information you give, the easier it will be for the speech therapist to help your child!
You can give your child the beautiful gift of communication by being a proactive and attentive parent.
Let me know in the comments what you see in your child’s language skills. Are you worried about anything? Are you planning to consult a therapist? Or have consulted one already?
I am also curious, which of the advice I gave here resonated with you?
Best of luck to your family, and your child.
See you back here soon!
Buket Oztekin has an M.A. in speech and language therapy and a Ph.D. in linguistics. She works with bilingual children and investigates their language development. She coaches parents of bilingual children and connects them with other parents to spread knowledge and experience. Her goal with creating LingoBalance is to turn what the research says into bitesize information and activities for parents to use with their kiddos anytime, anywhere.