Compiled by Daniela Gatt, B.Sc. (Hons) M.Ed. (B’ham)



It is estimated that one person in every three worldwide regularly use two languages for daily communicative functioning (Li Wei, 2000).

There are two types of bilingual acquisition patterns occurring in children: sequential and simultaneous. In sequential bilingualism, children learn their first language (L1) prior to their exposure to an additional, or second, language (L2). In simultaneous bilingualism, children are exposed concurrently to two languages.

The proportions of languages to which the child is exposed in daily contexts, together with the pattern of language use within the child’s home and the type of linguistic exposure the child receives outside the family environment, are important determiners of the developing pattern of bilingualism.


Interesting facts

Bilingualism does not increase children’s risk for language impairments.

Bilingualism is actually said to be advantageous to the language learning process of young children.

Bilingual speakers frequently engage in borrowing and code switching, so that elements from  their  two  languages are integrated  into  a  single utterance.  Children  exposed to bilingual environments are often  observed to  engage in similar behaviours themselves, probably in response to the model provided by their carers.


How to help

A child brought  up in  a mixed bilingual environment and taking  time  to  speak might actually be trying to make sense of the mixture of languages to which s/he is exposed.

There is increasing acceptance of the  fact that  young children brought  up in bilingual contexts  and  presenting  with  language impairments  should  be  exposed to  language patterns that are natural for the persons providing them as well as for the child receiving them.

It is  recommendable that  a  consistent  pattern  in  the  use  of  the  two  languages is maintained so that  children learn to  differentiate  between the  two  languages in  their environment.

Recent research states that  carers who expose young children to  borrowing  and code switching in their daily communicative contexts are not to refrain from doing so since this is a natural behaviour for bilingual speakers.

Whenever a child exposed to two  or more languages seems to be taking long to talk, advice from a Speech-Language Pathologist (SLP)  should be sought. The SLP may try to determine whether the child has relatively more strengths in his/her  L1 or L2 or whether both languages have developed to approximately the same level. Therapy, if indicated, may target both languages simultaneously. Alternatively, the focus may be first on one language and subsequently on the other, depending on the child’s level of ability in both languages.


Useful Links

Multilingual Family (http://www.multilingualfamily.org.uk/)

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