Did your bilingual children speak late?

(42 Posts)
WhatTheWaterGaveMe Sun 14-Apr-13 13:35:58


For those who have spoke 2 (or more) languages since birth around their children, when did they start speaking coherently?

My DD is 14 months old, I speak English and she is exposed to it pretty much everywhere. OH speaks his language to her and she is exposed to it when he speaks to her, when we visit his family, music etc. But far more English.

She doesn't really say anything yet - she went through a phase of saying one word in OH's language but she doesn't really say it anymore!

She doesn't say mum, or baba (which would be dad for her).
She makes lots of noises, she's vocal, just nothing coherent!

I'm not worried as such, because I know all babies are different, and have heard that bilingual children sometimes speak late.

Intrigued of others experiences smile

kirrinIsland Sun 14-Apr-13 18:53:30

Our situation is pretty much the same as yours - and now she goes to nursery she really is surrounded by English.

At 14 months DD1 had one or two words in each language and she never mixed them - once she had a word for something she stuck to it!

She started 'properly' talking at about 18 months - ie. More than just the od word or too. I don't know if this late or not to be honest? Once she started she hasn't stopped!

Now, at 2.3, she speaks mostly English, but she does speak Arabic too, and she responds equally to instructions in either language.

kirrinIsland Sun 14-Apr-13 18:54:41



SolomanDaisy Sun 14-Apr-13 19:03:42

My DS approached it differently kirrin's dd - he loves being able to say the same word in different languages, so will often say both of them! He also likes to mix up the languages to make rhymes. He's 21 months and English is his dominant language, as he's at home with me. He speaks pretty long sentences and uses appropriate grammar in English (e.g. one finger, two fingers) but has just started putting two words together in his second language.

I have read both things about bilingual children, that they speak later and that it makes no difference. 14 months is still really early. I can't actually remember how much DS was saying at that age, but I don't think it was much.

kelda Sun 14-Apr-13 19:04:54

They spoke late but NOT because they are bilingual.

DD1 spoke very late, first word at 18 months and was very behind at age three. We were fobbed off with everyone saying that it was because she is bilingual. They were wrong. She had a hearing problem that was not picked up until age four, and fortunately cured by grommets. She began speaking more straight after the grommets were put in.

Ds was also very late in speaking. Again we were fobbed off by doctors and teachers who said it was because he is a boy and becuase he is bilingual etc. At age four and a half he is pretty much unintelligible and has been diagnosed with verbal dyspraxia, which is a serious speech disorder, and nothing to do with him being bilingual. In fact his vocabularly in both languages is good, it's just almost impossible to understand him because he cannot coordinate the muscles involved in speech.

Being bilingual should not delay the developmental imperative to start talking. Tests have shown that bilingual children have a higher total vocabulary then monolingual children, but in each language, their vocabulary may be less.

At age 14 months it is impossible to say if she is delayed or not. Just keep an eye on her, speak to your health visitor, and if you are worried, do not be fobbed off by people who tell you she is delayed because of being bilingual.

As you can tell, I feel quite strongly about this.

TimeIsACurrency Sun 14-Apr-13 19:09:38

My LO is coming up 3 now and started I don't think he started speaking particularly late or early. He just used a mix of the two languages and only started recognising he had two ways to say the same thing maybe at around 2.

He still doesn't switch between the languages if asked too because he thinks it's all one language iyswim. But he will ask a question in English, then sometimes if you don't answer straight away switch to Welsh, just in case you didn't understand him the first time. grin

He's quite confident in his speech but I don't think he can speak as much English as his non bilingual friends his age, no.
He doesn't talk any less than them, just does so using a mixture of the two languages. Sometimes you have to translate for people or other children and then we teach him that word/phrase/whatever in English so he then has both.
Hope that makes sense to you! blush

alexpolismum Sun 14-Apr-13 20:50:39

Well, my first child started speaking at the age of 2.

My second started speaking at 1 year old

My third child is now 3.3 and we are still waiting.

All children are different. There doesn't seem to be any correlation between bilingualism and starting to speak later. Some monolinguals speak later, as do some bilinguals.

noramum Sun 14-Apr-13 21:12:03

DD went to nursery from 11 months and the nursery nurses never gave us any concern that she was late. She had a breakthrough with 20 months where we actually made a list and came up to 50 words, in both languages together.

My mono-lingual friend's DD grunted her way through life until she was over 2. Billingualism is not an reason for later talker just a big prejustice.

cory Mon 15-Apr-13 09:01:16

My bilingual children spoke earlier than my monolingual nephews.

Though now I think about it ds' childminder did raise the issue of ds having some kind of language delay. Apparently, he hardly spoke to her. Many years later, ds revealed the reason: it seems he quite genuinely believed that she was a witch. Poor ds. Under those circumstances I suppose keeping your mouth shut would seem a reasonable precaution.

Dilidali Mon 15-Apr-13 09:22:38

No, mine didn't, she spoke early and using both languages for respective parents. However, once she left the nursery she point blank refused to speak any language but English. Pushed ( ie non english speaking relatives around) she will speak the other language 10%, english 30% and hand gestures 60%. Or will give them a running commentary in english how, as their only granddaughter, are you watching me?, I am entitled to the chocolate you bought for me, yes? I am opening the packet now and you are not to tell mum or she'll hit the roof, I am having a bite( shouting), OK?

gabsid Wed 17-Apr-13 11:37:13

DD (now 4 1/2) said a few words up until 2 and a bit in both languages. By 2 1/2 she was speaking in complex sentences, mostly in German but her English was fine. DD loves books and is a good listener.

DS (now 8) started at 12 months and said quite a few words in both languages. By 2 1/2 DD was speaking better though. DS is not into books much and still needs to work in his listening and concentration skills at school. Still, he is average and very much bilingual.

LeBFG Mon 13-May-13 12:26:23

It's interesting to read about such a lot of variation in speech acquisition. Quite reassuring for me!

My 26mo DS has english at home and second language at the CM/all socialising. AT the 24m meeting I made a list of 50 english words but most either poorly pronounced or made up words (e.g. dado for red, doesn't even ressemble english or minority lang). He doesn't link words (apart from mama no!) but communicates well with gestures. He says two or three words in the minority lang now. I'm just desperate to be able to communicate with him!

Kelda - what are the features of verbal dyspraxia? Are there any early warning signs?

loopyluna Tue 14-May-13 20:54:01

My eldest and youngest were about average I think -first words around 1, sentences by 18 months. Middle one was very early, words at 6 months, sentences at 1, conversations in both languages before 18 months (we discovered later that she has a v high IQ and this is not "usual" behaviour!

I live abroad and know an awful lot of expat families with 2, 3 or more languages. I think most kids are early talkers, many are late, few are average! My theory is that they are listeners or chatterers and it's just personality that decides which.

Vietnammark Fri 07-Jun-13 04:13:10

From my personal experience with my son who until 2.2 years old was dominant in Vietnamese and at that age his dominant language switched to English. I would say that there was a slight language delay, maybe 3-6 months.

I believe research shows that as with monolingual kids, bilingual kids develop speaking skills at varying ages, but on average bilingual kids speaking develops only very slightly slower. Think the average delay is only about one month.

My son, now 5.5 years old, is a bright kid who I think has an above average English speaking ability and knowledge of vocab (compared to the average middle class kid of his age living in the UK. We live in Vietnam). His Vietnamese, I estimate, is that of the average native speaking Vietnamese 4 year old.

He has recently started Mandarin classes and loves them. Seems to be progressing very well, but Mandarin is not that too dissimilar to Vietnamese, so it shouldn't be too much of a stretch for him.

hellokitty123 Fri 07-Jun-13 12:26:11

One of my bilingual children spoke earlier than most monolingual children whereas my other one spoke later - bilingualism has nothing to do with it. Some children are fast learners and/or more articulate and better at languages, others take a little longer. My early speaker still speaks both languages better than my later speaker, and they're 8 and 10 now!

DD is now 2y10m and bilingual Arabic/English with a tiny bit of French too. At 18 months she was uttering single words in Arabic and started sentences around 2. I noticed she spoke less than some of her peers but more than others so couldn't really say whether she was delayed by bilingualism or not.

Until four months ago we were based in Egypt and Arabic was her dominant language. Her English vocabulary was very limited and I struggled to get her to speak any to me, though she was a bit more forthcoming with my monolingual English best friend. I reached the point where I thought I'd failed to give her a basic grounding in English and given that we aren't planning an English medium education for her, all was lost.

When we went to the UK to visit family, I explained that none of them know Arabic and so we would have to speak english. Given that I didn't think she even understood English that well I was shocked to find that from the second day she did not utter a word in Arabic to anyone except me, and that this continued even at nursery. Turns out she just knew that she didn't really have to use it in Egypt and couldn't be bothered. She also seemed to have no trouble understanding people despite a wide range of regional accents in my family. English is now her preferred language even with DH but she does Arabic when pressed or angry.

Now we're in France but because I haven't been able to get her into nursery her French is not improving and even her comprehension is weak. She's going to school in September and I'm a bit concerned about how a third language will influence the others. She introduces French words into English sentences but never Arabic ones. Her new trick is loudly demanding me to address her in a specific language in public places blush and expecting all cartoons to be available in all three languages. She's especially upset that she can't watch Mary Poppins and brave in Arabic. Anyone else had this?

LeBFG Sun 09-Jun-13 13:46:44

She sounds lovely alteredimages. It's so wonderful she has the three languages well separated in her head. There seem to be different mechanisms children adopt when they're bi/multilingual. I know lots of children refuse to speak a language when they know the person they are communicating with speaks it only as a second language. I also know of families which speak one tongue at home but when the children reach a certain age they refuse to communicate in the parental tongue unless forced to in the way you describe. Very common is if the parents only speak the second language poorly and siblings will converse in it when they want to keep the topic closed - a bit like having a secret language.

OneLittleToddleTerror Mon 10-Jun-13 10:01:34

lebfg how is your DS speech now?

My DD is brought up biligual but full time in nursery. English is also the primary language at home. At her 24mo review the HV said she should have 50 words and I should be able to understand her 1/2 the time. She wasn't at that stage at the time. She had more than 50 words, only one sentence. It is my xxx (ie my shoe, my sock). But the HV says that their speech usually have a breakthrough between 2 and 2 1/2. So if she's still not at the half comprehensible stage at 2 1/2, she'll refer DD. At 26mo now, I can understand her now 1/2 the time, and she's got two sentences. The new one is xx do it, like mummy do it, daddy do it, me do it.

I hear boys are slightly slower than girls. So hopefully this give you another slower speaker to compare with.

OneLittleToddleTerror Mon 10-Jun-13 10:02:19

Oh and DD barely speaks her second language. It's only the odd words used in an English sentence, and only if she doesn't know the english equivalent.

Ds started to talk (Italian) when he was about 24 months old.
We lived in the UK when he was little. We spoke Italian at home (both me and dh are Italian) but the rest was obviously in English and he started going to nursery 2 days a week when he was about 14 months.

The bizarre thing was that before starting to talk fluently he had some words, some were Italian others were English. And he said NO like an English child would grin

LeBFG Mon 10-Jun-13 10:37:49

I think they all learn to say 'no' fluently in any second language. Weird that grin.

Thanks OneLittleToddler. It's interesting reading your experiences. DS is coming up to 27 months now and is learning new words and about a month ago started putting 2 words together. Nearly all his words are distinct to me but still very frequently incomprehensible to outsiders. He has some French words which he pronouces surprisingly well. Just yesterday he said 'bonjour' (doesn't even say hello in english!). He now has 'hot' in both languages and uses them interchangeably I think to show off hmm. Same with cat. He's been doing two days a week with the CM from 17 months so similar to your DS Franca.

I'm still holding off any judgement. I have a friend who is in a similar situation to me in the UK and her son is at exactly the same stage as mine. Plus another friend here, monolingual, who's DS has much less language than mine.....so. Holding off for the moment.

grin. It was weird though, as the few words he had were Italian and with definite Italian sound (different vowels), but No was deffo English grin

Sadly we are back in Italy and my dc english accent is deteriorating.

LeBFG Mon 10-Jun-13 11:08:05

How is your English accent? Perhaps now is the time to do English at home and Italian away. How old is he now? My old prof returned to natal country with 6yo daughter about 12 years ago. I met them recently and she had a perfect cut-glass english accent. Pretty remarkable actually.

MerryMarigold Mon 10-Jun-13 11:12:32

Bilingual children are so different. I have 2 friends (one French, one German) who speak exclusively (including their dh's) to their children in their language. One friend's ds was a very late speaker. he also had an inner ear problem. Even now (age 5) he speaks English with a German accent despite living in this country and going to school here. He is much more comfortable in German. The other friend's ds was an early speaker, both languages but is more comfortable in English. He replies to his parents in English even though they speak French to him. He seems to have figured out that he's going to need English more frequently and just sticks to it.

MasterOfTheYoniverse Mon 10-Jun-13 11:19:06

No but had a clear preference for the majority language.....which was always english although its not Dh & mine's native language.
We speak 2 languages consistently and they are mow fluent aged 5 & 9.
We also speak our native language (arabic for which they now jave a god ear and make an effort when we are with grand parents).
They ate learning mandarin at school and naking goid progress academically.

My take on this is that they need an emotional component to develop proficiency.
They are really happy and confident giving it a go when in context (ie when visiting grand parents or with chinese friends at school), but unenthousiastic with us as practical communication is not relevant in those languages.
also, A telling example is that they can make jokes and say a few affectionate words in takaluk (philipino) because our nanny has been with us for years and is like a big sister and it matters that they share her heritage.

Hope it makes sense?

SquidgyMummy Mon 10-Jun-13 11:20:13

We live in France, DS is 2.8 and goes to french speaking creche but we speak English at home. He uses about 10 words although gabbles away in a made up language. He is currently being assessed by a child psychologist to understand why he won't talk, although he communicates very well (miming etc). She will then refer him to either a motor function or speech therapist.
His hearing has been checked and is fine, as is his comprehension.

DP is more relaxed about it than me and says he will speak when he feels ready. At the moment, we understand everything, so he has not real need to speak.

I am however looking forward to the psychologist's final assessment

MasterOfTheYoniverse Mon 10-Jun-13 11:21:48

Sorry for sp mistakes. Small keypad on phone!

My accent is good, not too overtly Italian, but def not English. I know we should have switched to speaking English when we moved back, but we didn't and I regret it.

We've been back 5 yrs now, they were 5.5 and 3.5 when we moved back. They speak good English, and I plan to spend more and more time in the UK in the summer as they grow.

MasterOfTheYoniverse Mon 10-Jun-13 11:26:18

I thinking modelling the language is very impirtant too,
Am a real chatterbox, commenting every action and talking to myself all day long!
They probably started speaking early just so that i would shut up grin

LeBFG Mon 10-Jun-13 11:38:06

I'm similar to you Master but I reasoned the other way - he can't get a word in edgeways grin. Poor thing. When you say you speak two languages, is that one language per parent? How does that work?

Accents are pretty flexible Franca - they'll improve no end with time in the UK. I had an very pronounced westcountry accent when I went to uni. Three years on and I left with a south London accent (which I'll regret to my dying day) because I felt it was important to conform. It does come back a bit if I visit family or drink a glass or two of cider.

Squidge - I'm very interested by your experiences. I would very much like to know what happens. How does you DS form the words he says? My DS will not make O shapes for example. He also can't say hard k words like 'cat'. Do you notice similar things?

Mine had a great Devonian accent LeBFG! I have to say that I am more concerned about their prepositions than their accent, at the moment grin

MasterOfTheYoniverse Mon 10-Jun-13 11:49:54

We both speak english and french indiscriminately.
English takes over most of the time as we must do phonics and reading with the little one and research/homework with the eldest.
So naturally any "intellectual" conversation is carried out in English, which for my children is the "cultured" language (same as french when we were growing up in an Arab country). French is nurture and friends.
It all sounds very precious am sorry!

Franca, agree, accents change all the time. In Asia most kids speak English in school and American in the playground because its wayyyy cool right?

Quite frankly, I know so many ozzie/NZ/UK families who only have one language and who's kids (boys particularly) dod not form coherent sentence until past 3. Speech therapy is a good thing but really if they are engaging and happy to communicate in other ways, do not beat yourself up.
Starting school is the turning point between 3-4 and the teachers will point you in the right direction.
I do guided reading as a parent helper in reception this year. Some little boys have noticeable speech impairements but are still on the higher bands on ORT and other schemes.
Just be consistent sounding out words and READ WITH YOUR KIDS. build up and sound sound out vocabulary for them. Just picture books are fab. sound out every image and make use of their imagination and yours to comment on the pictures.

OneLittleToddleTerror Mon 10-Jun-13 11:52:00

LeBFG it sounds pretty good to me. The HV says it's supposed to be comprehensible to his carer only. They will have problem announciating properly for a while. I think it's worse for bilignual children because they'll be mixing the two languages. So the test would have to be a carer that is fluent in both languages the child is raised on. In my case, it's only me. DH is learning some cantonese words but he seems quite forgetful on new words sometimes. It might be the 100th time, say, he heard DD asking for her hat in cantonese, and he still didn't click it's the hat!

MasterOfTheYoniverse Mon 10-Jun-13 11:52:38

whose blush

OneLittleToddleTerror Mon 10-Jun-13 11:59:00

LeBFG my DD can't say the c sound in car or cat either. She says it as tar and tat. If you google, you'll find it's a common one they have problem with. Supposedly they will just get better at making these sounds over time. And that's why only their carers will understand them sometimes. Also, that's why we shouldn't be repeatedly telling them they are saying something wrong.

But I do notice there are some differences. A boy I know who's slightly older than DD. He has better speech, but couldn't say the s sound (as in swimming). DD says the s really well. It could be because cantonese has a lot of s and ts sounds.

OneLittleToddleTerror Mon 10-Jun-13 12:08:59

Here's the list of commonly mispronounce sounds by preschoolers

It says it's around 4 before they can say them with ease. HTH.

cory Tue 11-Jun-13 08:11:09

MasterOfTheYoniverse Mon 10-Jun-13 11:49:54
"We both speak english and french indiscriminately.
English takes over most of the time as we must do phonics and reading with the little one and research/homework with the eldest.
So naturally any "intellectual" conversation is carried out in English, which for my children is the "cultured" language (same as french when we were growing up in an Arab country). French is nurture and friends."

This is fascinating. It's like a Luxemburgian newspaper! We were intrigued during a holiday some years ago to see that culture in the Luxemburg press is all French, sport is German and local news are Letzeburgisch (sp.).

<goes off to ponder diglossia in own family>

LeBFG Tue 11-Jun-13 09:21:56

Yes, this piqued my interest too cory. I've been trying (and eulagising a bit too) about English at home, French abroad so to speak. As DS's language has been slowly getting better I've been speaking more French at home. He'll go to school next year and I want to know where he is with his understanding (I suspect CM of using English words angry). I then worried about confusing him or passing on poor accent etc, but after reading posts on this board I'm less concerned now. I'm more worried about later on when French might become his preferred language at home. Proficiency in both languages is my goal.

Thanks for the link about proununciation OneLittleToddle. I'm new to babies so it's nice to see it's normal to struggle with certain sounds.

LeBFG Tue 11-Jun-13 09:24:28

Plus, cory, it made me laugh at the choice of languages: emotional, feminine french for fluffy communication and cold, masculine german for the hard statistics and tough sports reading too much gender stuff at the mo

MasterOfTheYoniverse Tue 11-Jun-13 12:48:06

LeBFG tbh, french is really not fluffy and feminine in my psyche. Its just innate as opposed to acquired ( which would be english for me)
Without the added dimension of the other 2 languages, its the exact opposite of kids experience. Which makes me feel completely schizophrenic most of the time.

LeBFG Tue 11-Jun-13 13:32:10

No I don't suppose it is. It just struck me as amusing the language division in the Luxemburg newspaper -

Do you switch language during a conversation or do you ask a question in one language and the children reply in another? Is there a lot of code switching going on? Just interested to know, I'm not the Spanish Inquisition blush.

MasterOfTheYoniverse Tue 11-Jun-13 13:45:55

We really try every possible formula.
Most of the time, whichever language we speak, they reply in standard BBC english, which is really infuriating because (with no offense whatsoever) its the common minimum denominator and we'd really like to see them make an effort.

My main problem at the moment is that the standard BBC english is delivered in a CNN accent punctuated with copious amount of "like" and "whatever" & "ok, cool, you got it"

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