In the U.K we are known for our vast multi-cultural society; having more than two languages being spoken in a home for a number of families is now seen as the norm. The question I pose today is whether a bilingual home, is an advantage or detrimental to the early development of a child?
...Although I had my reservations about parents raising a child in a bilingual home, particularly children with speech delay. I also know from firsthand experience that it could be beneficial for a child to understand their parent's native tongue. Having engaged in many debates on this matter, I held the view that a child hearing more than one language in the home, at such an early stage, could cause confusion or possibly a delay in speech. Moreover, difficulties differentiating between the two languages could also cause children to refrain from speaking altogether. After all that's what some research indicted.
Yet having conducted thorough research into this area, I can conclude that it is indeed a myth!!
The question you may be asking yourself is, is this all relevant if my child has autism? The answer is yes. A child with autism can be raised in a bilingual home in the same way as any child would. Being bilingual does not have negative effects on a child with autism's language anymore than a child without autism.
Some studies may indicate that it is not advisable for children with autism to learn another language. While others have proven that autistic children being bilingual have some cognitive benefits. You are probably thinking how? Well.... Learning another language allows children to communicate with gestures and expressions to get what they are trying to say across and studies show that children with autism are less likely to do this but when they are bilingual they begin to communicate like this from a young age.
Being bilingual, contrary to some people's beliefs, doesn't mean you need to be proficient in each language, one language can be more prominent than the other. BUT with repetition of words and consistency in hearing these words, it will encourage knowledge and associations of language learning.
...Worried about your child mixing up words, don't be! It is very common for children to mix up their words, exclude connectives and make grammatical errors. More words only make it worse!! If you think about it, adults who are bilingual engage in code mixing all the time, so really your child is just showing signs of perfecting their bilingualism.
I thought I'd share some tips with you if you would like to take the route of raising your child in a bilingual home. I mean why not? What is really stopping you?
Tips For A Bilingual Home
- Choose the dominant language - when working on initial first words the dominant language should be encouraged.
- Consider choosing the dominant language based on your child's academic setting - It only makes sense that if your child is proficient in a language, it should be reflected in their academic achievements, not to mention this will be the institution your child will spend countless hours of learning in!!
- Use simplified and concrete words with both languages - avoid idioms.
- During your ABA programmes, if your child gives a correct response in the language you didn't communicate it in, reinforce just as much if not more - remember it is still a correct response!!
- Be patient with your child, not all children grasp another language as easy as others. In addition observe your child's learning styles and modes of interaction. Make sure you adapt your teaching of the second language accordingly.
In my opinion when choosing to bring your child up in a bilingual home it is a personal choice that should be agreed on by both parents. There are many factors to consider but essentially it should be based on what's best for your child. You are the primary source of language for your child; they imitate, practice and engage in activities through interactions with you. Social interaction can be deficit in some homes, so provide a natural and comfortable environment and if speaking your native tongue encourages social interaction and inclusion in the home, then go for it!!