The multilingual child’s stages of speech

When a child grows up in a multilingual environment they are given the key to a wonderful new and rich world. But this world can be challenging at times. Parents might worry when their children don’t start to speak when expected in one or all of their languages.

Understanding the stages that a child goes through before speaking will help parents to evaluate at what point in their development their child is and whether there is any need for worry or action.

Stage 1: The Silent Period

This is an important stage that should not be rushed. Infants are able to understand a lot before they can speak any words and their ability to comprehend should not be underestimated. In fact they always understand much more than they are able to produce in words.

During this stage toddlers take time to observe, hypothesise and test their understanding of vocabulary.  They might even be making an effort to communicate with you non-verbally. Note that this stage lasts much longer for some children and it is very important not to compare or measure their progress with other children*. Remember every child is different. If a child prioritises movement they might focus on learning to walk over learning to speak. They cannot possibly work on everything they need to learn in life at the same time.

Introducing baby sign language during this stage can be a huge support for families and act as a bridge between the languages baby is exposed to.

Stage 2: Beginning to talk

In this exciting stage infants are beginning to attempt sounds and then words. For example, the word milk might come out first as ‘muh’ or ‘mimi’, evolving into ‘milk’ as they gain more command of their speech muscles and increase in confidence.

Perhaps you’ll hear them trying out some statements that they have memorised exactly as they heard them. ‘That’s a dog’. ‘Let’s go home’.

This stage can last a very long time and overlap with stage 3 as they continue to build up their vocabulary and grammatical knowledge.

Stage 3: Building up language

During this stage children start to modify memorised statements and create their own sentences. ‘Time to go home’ might become ‘time to play’ or ‘potty time’.

With continued parental support, high quality and frequent exposure to each language you can be sure your child will continue to progress on their journey of becoming multilingual.

Note: One language can dominate over another. It’s possible that both languages develop at the same speed. Or that your child doesn’t seem to attempt speech in any language. All these scenarios are considered normal and not a cause for worry.

*If you are worried about the rate of your child’s development it is important to seek out the appropriate support from a professional. If the problem is related to their speech I strongly suggest finding a therapist that is experienced in working with multilingual children because they are known to progress and develop differently to monolingual children.

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I organise workshops and language courses for infants and children in Delft, South Holland, in an effort to support them and their families on the long rocky beautiful road of multilingualism. Please get in touch (info @ englishvoice .nl) to find out more.

5 tips to help your child love reading

Here at English Voice we take reading seriously. We think it should be seriously fun!

Unfortunately reading often becomes hard work, especially when approached academically and with targets in mind. So how can we help children to really love reading from the start?

  • Start young – Make board books available for your baby. Black and white and bold images with plenty of contrast are attractive to even the smallest infants. Tactile books will keep them busy discovering new textures. They will learn what books are and how they work. Let them hold them and taste them. Consider fabric books and waterproof books that are easily cleaned.
  • Make books accessible – Try and get as many books as possible for your child. It’s true, they can be expensive, but you can sign up to the local library (in most places children join for free and in some places libraries have a welcome gift pack for newborns with a couple of books inside), think about swapping books with your kid’s friends and check if you can get them second hand in your area.
  • Make it fun – Reading should be for pleasure or children will soon refuse to read. Pick books with topics that your child is interested in, better yet let them choose. Encourage them to read at anytime, not just bedtime. Even when kids are able to read by themselves, they benefit a lot from their parents reading to them. It’s a wonderful time to connect and bond.
  • Engage your child – Stop and look at the pictures together. It’s easy to get into the habit of asking your child lots of questions ‘where’s the dog?’, ‘what’s this?’ but don’t let it become an interrogation. You can also describe the pictures, your little one could be exposed to new vocabulary that way. Ask them open conversation questions, ‘which bit of the story did you like the best?’. Encourage them to make predictions, ‘what do you think will happen next?’, or express any other observations they have.
  • Be an example – Show them that reading is important by actively reading yourself. Let them see what you like to read, tell them what the book is about and share what you learn with them. This is a huge motivation for kids, they want to be like mum and dad.

What has helped you encourage reading in your family? Your tips might help others to improve in this area and have more fun with their children!

English Voice organises reading lessons for small children, from around 4 years old, using the Oxford Reading Tree series published by Oxford University Press and used in 80% of primary schools in the UK. For more information please get in touch at (info  @  englishvoice.nl)

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