Baby's First Year · Parenting

When children speak more than one language

Mother and two children sitting on the carpet and reading a book together.

As a Speech-Language Pathologist, living in a multicultural society like Toronto, it is my role to support parents and encourage them to keep their home language. Parents often ask if it’s ok to expose their child to more than one language when the child has a language delay. The answer- YES!

Research shows that babies have the ability to learn more than one language…and that learning earlier is better!

According to the Canadian Pediatric Society, children who have a speech or language delay/disorder will not be more delayed if they are exposed or learn more than one language. Also, exposing a child at a young age to multiple languages will not cause or contribute to a language delay.

In fact, it’s recommended that parents speak to their child in a language that they feel comfortable with. By doing this, a child is exposed to a language model that has a large vocabulary, appropriate grammar, and that is easy and natural for the parent.

The Hanen Centre cautions families that certain problems may occur if parents stop speaking their home language with their child:

  • The child’s exposure to his home culture may be at risk
  • Relationships with other family members who only speak the home language may suffer, and
  • If the parent is speaking to a child in a language they are not comfortable in, the parent-child bond, attachment, interactions, and relationship may be affected

3 suggestions for a child to learn a second language:

As a parent, choose the one that works best for you and your child. Remember, it is important to be consistent and to not mix languages to avoid confusion.

  1. One person/parent-one language: One person speaks one language to the child; the other person speaks the other language to the child. For example, mom speaks Spanish to the child, and dad speaks English to the child.
  2. One place-one language: One language is spoken at home and the other language is spoken during the day at daycare, at a community program, or at school.
  3. One activity-one language: One language is spoken at home (the first language) and the other language is spoken during a specific timed activity. For example, Tamil is spoken at home, and English is spoken during bath time or snack time each day.

If your child is bilingual, and not meeting the suggested communication milestones in their first language, please contact Early Abilities or fill out the self-referral form to access our speech and language services. Our services can involve the use of an interpreter if needed.

As of April 1, 2022 the Preschool Speech and Language, Blind-Low Vision and Infant Hearing programs have moved from Toronto Public Health (Early Abilities) to Surrey Place. To register for services or learn more about the programs, please visit Surrey Place or call 416-925-5141.

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