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Bringing Up (Bilingual) Bébé

Updated: Jan 9

There’s a lot of, sometimes confusing, information out there about language development, especially when it comes to young bilingual language learners.

Let’s go through a couple common questions and terms that parents often bring up when asking about what’s best for their children who are learning multiple languages.

We’ll dive into what being bilingual actually means, the different types, and MOST of all, how exposing your child to multiple languages will NOT cause or worsen a language delay or disorder.

What does being Bilingual mean?

Let’s bust one misconception right away:

Being bilingual does not mean someone is equally proficient in both languages.

In fact, most multilingual learners have stronger skills in one language over the other and their preference or proficiency in each can change over time.

Types of Bilingual Language Learners

Not only do bilingual/multilingual learners have different proficiency levels in each language, but there are also different types of bilingual learners!

The distinction between sequential and simultaneous bilingual learners all depends on when they were first exposed to each language.

  • Sequential: learn a first language before age 3 and then another (second) language sometime after. For example, this would describe a child who heard and spoke Portuguese at home with their parents and other language partners (grandparents, family friends), and had their first main exposure to English when they went to preschool at age 4.

  • Simultaneous: learn two or more languages at the same time, with both languages being introduced before the age of 3. For example, this would describe a child who has heard and spoken a mix of Portuguese and English with their parents and other language partners (family friends, nanny, etc.) since birth.

Scapegoat of Bilingualism

Another big misconception to bust:

Learning 2 or more languages at a young age does NOT cause a language delay!

Multiple studies have shown that language development milestones of monolingual and bilingual children are the same (ASHA, 2019; Kohnert, 2013; Paradis, Genesee, & Cargo, 2011).

This means that children start babbling, saying their first words, and creating sentences around the same time -- whether they are monolingual or bilingual. Rates of language disorders among both groups are roughly the same as well.

If that doesn’t convince you, listen to the U.S. department of health and human services and the US department of education! In 2017, they stated “there is no scientific research that suggests that learning multiple languages – or being bilingual – can lead to a developmental delay for children.”

Bilingual and multilingual kids can have delays, disorders, and differences, too. But don’t let their multiple languages be a scapegoat for their diagnoses!

Frequently Asked Questions

Should I still use both language if my child is delayed, is neurodivergent and/or has a disability?

Research shows that exposure to two languages from birth does not make a language disorder more severe. A language disorder doesn’t mean a child can’t learn two languages (Paradis & Kirova, 2014).

Don’t be afraid of speaking your home language with your child even if they have a delay, disability, and/or neurodivergent profile – research clearly shows that exposure to two languages does no harm.

Won’t my child get confused with having two languages?

Will my bilingual child’s development look different AT ALL?

Should I always speak to my child in the language they’ll use at school?

What should you look for in an SLP if your child is bilingual or multilingual?

Take Aways:

Remember that:

  • Bilingual individuals are not normally equally proficient in both languages

  • There is a difference between Sequential vs Simultaneous dual language learners

  • Bilingualism does not cause delays or disorders, and will not exacerbate your child’s delay or disorder either

  • Interact with your child in whichever language you're most comfortable with

  • If you suspect that your bilingual or multilingual child has a language delay, find an SLP educated in bilingualism topics


Byers-Heinlein, K., & Lew-Williams, C. (2013). Bilingualism in the Early Years: What the Science Says. LEARNing landscapes, 7(1), 95–112.

Danahy Ebert, K., Kohnert, K., Giang Pham, Rentmeester Disher, J., & Payesteh, B. (2014). Three Treatments for Bilingual Children With Primary Language Impairment: Examining Cross-Linguistic and Cross-Domain Effects. Journal of Speech, Language & Hearing Research, 57(1), 172–186.

Genesee, F. (2010). Dual language development in preschool children. Young English language learners: Current research and emerging directions for practice and policy, 59-79.

Gildersleeve-Neumann, C., & Goldstein, B. A. (2015). Cross-linguistic generalization in the treatment of two sequential Spanish-English bilingual children with speech sound disorders. International Journal of Speech-Language Pathology, 17(1), 26–40.

Kohnert, K. (2013). Language Disorders in Bilingual Children and Adults (2nd ed.). San Diego, CA: Plural Publishing Inc.

Paradis, J., Genesee, F., & Crago, M.B. (2011). Dual language development and disorders: A handbook on bilingualism and second language learning (2nd ed.). Baltimore, MD: Brookes

Paradis, J., & Kirova, A. (2014). English second-language learners in preschool. International Journal of Behavioral Development, 38, 342 - 349.

Paul, R., Norbury, C., & Gosse, C. (2018). Language disorders from infancy through adolescence: Listening, speaking, reading, writing, and Communicating (5th ed.). Elsevier.

Tenés, L. S., Weiner-Bühler, J. C., Volpin, L., Grob, A., Skoruppa, K., & Segerer, R. K. (2023). Language proficiency predictors of code-switching behavior in dual-language-learning children. Bilingualism: Language and Cognition, 1-17.

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