"My son is in preschool and his teacher tells me he isn’t learning to speak at the same rate as other kids in his class. He’s learning two languages. He speaks Pilipino (Tagalog) at home and he speaks English at school. They have suggested we speak only English at home and that the two languages might be confusing him."

Is bilingualism responsible for preschool children having language delays?

The early years are best for teaching new languages to children. Every piece of research on the subject tells us we should be teaching second languages to children when they’re young, not when they’re in high school.

The early years are when the brain is creating connections and pathways to facilitate learning. The more pathways we help to create in the area of language the better. Bilingualism is just one of the ways to develop your child’s mind.

So what’s happening to your bilingual child? A couple things; one your child is learning to process two languages, sometimes it takes a little longer to select the language your child wants to speak and find the right words to express his thoughts.

This last part is common to both bilingual and monolingual children. In most cases we understand the processing that language takes and wait. However, if your child is bilingual the fact that he is learning two languages becomes the reason why we hear the delay. Bilingualism is declared the culprit.

The other issue is a political one. In the United States bilingualism is not embraced. The United States unlike Canada, most European and Asian countries, and South America has a tradition of insisting that everyone speak English and only English. And in this case, it doesn’t matter how much research proves that speaking multiple languages is okay, perhaps even good for you. There are those who just don’t like people speaking other languages.

My mother, on the other hand, insisted that her children learn to speak Spanish. The method she chose was to speak Spanish to us at home while we learned English in school. She wouldn’t answer any questions unless they were spoken in Spanish. This is one of the recommendations made by many bilingual specialists to help children avoid mixing the two languages.

However, my over riding motivation for learning Spanish was to be able to speak to my grandmother. I realized with my mother’s help, that I would lose a lot of my grandmother’s wisdom if I couldn’t communicate with her in her own language. As children grow they need a reason for speaking a second language, if they don’t have a good reason they may refuse to speak it. My mother was smart enough to give me a good reason.

In the end bilingual children develop into excellent students. They have a greater understanding of language structure and a greater vocabulary for expressing themselves using two languages. So keep your bilingualism it has a value.

Hasta el luego, this is Magda from Florida where the children are brilliant and the sun always shines.

P.S. Read children’s books in your native language. Listen to the radio in Spanish. Pick up, subscribe, or stop by the library and read children’s magazine articles to your child in her native language.

P.P.S. Don’t forget to teach and sing songs in Spanish or Tagalog to your child.

Bonus
Lyrics to the song 5 Little Monkeys

"Five Little Monkeys"

(sung to the tune of "Five Little Monkeys")

Five little monkeys jumping on the bed!

One fell off and bumped his head!
Mommy called the doctor and the doctor said!
No more monkeys jumpin on the bed!

¡Cuatro monos saltando en la cama!
¡Uno se cayó y golpeó la cabeza!
¡Mama llamó doctor y el doctor dijo!
¡No más monos saltando en la cama!

Three little monkeys jumping on the bed!
One fell off and bumped his head!
Mommy called the doctor and the doctor said!
No more monkeys jumpin on the bed!

¡Dos monos saltando en la cama!
¡Uno se cayó y golpeó la cabeza!
¡Mama llamó doctor y el doctor dijo!
¡No más monos saltando en la cama!

One little monkey jumping on the bed!
He fell off and bumped his head!
Mommy called the doctor and the doctor said!
No more monkeys jumpin on the bed!

Author's Bio: 

I've always enjoyed talking and writing about children. It's what I've been involved in for almost 3 decades. I’ve taught in Head Start programs, corporate and university settings. I’ve presented at major educational conferences and authored several articles on reading and learning. I hold an masters from Columbia, Teachers College and sit on several advisory boards. For more information visit my blog and leave me a comment or question @ http://pleasetrythisathome.blogspot.com