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Does more than one language help or hurt development? Read on to find out more.
WON'T THEY GET MIXED UP?
Children can differentiate between two similar languages by 6 months of age. They can differentiate between dissimilar languages earlier than that. When children learn more than one language they will mix them together for a period of time. This is considered to be typical and temporary.
DELAYS ARE TEMPORARY
Some older studies cite bilingual language learning as a cause of speech delays in toddlers. Present research indicates that if your child is speech delayed, learning more than one language will not make them any more delayed. Children raised hearing more than one language may take a little longer to begin speaking, but, within the third year of life typically developing children will catch up in their use of language. By age 3, the number of words understood by the child should be about 300 when taking into account both languages.
Some benefits of being bilingual are obvious. When one begins life with 2 languages, both are considered to be “first” languages by your brain. Thism can make the language area of the brain more resilient. “Exposure to greater than one language may alter neural and language processing in ways [that] are advantageous to language users” (Petito et al 2012). This may be because when a young brain is still being formed - between ages 0-3 - years, complex lingual information is grown in the first set of neural connections the child has. These connections are closer to the interior part of the cortex and, also, have a greater number of connections to the rest of the brain. This means that if a brain illness or injury occurs it may be easier to relearn the information that was stored.
Articulation may be influenced by hearing more than one language. Typically developing children will produce sounds that are within their developmental range in both languages. Younger children have an easier time picking up the correct sounds of a language than older ones. Best practices in speech therapy indicate that a child should be evaluated in all languages they speak. A thorough assessment can help rule out the influences of one language on the speech sounds of the other (Perez, et al, 2008).
What about children who have a severe speech disorder? When a child has severe difficulty comprehending that there is a one to one correspondence between an item or action and its name, it is often advisable to maintain a single language. This is because that child may require more consistency than is typical to learn the concept of word to item correspondence. While babies and toddlers typically “overextend” names of objects (all women are “mama”, all animals may be “doggie”) this usually only lasts until the third year of life.
The Take Away:
Bilingualism has benefits for most children!