I keep hearing these stories and it’s infuriating! There’s no evidence that bilingualism is confusing and no evidence that bilingualism makes developmental language disorder worse so stop it!Recently, I wrote a paper as part of a special issue on bilingual children with developmental language disorder. In it, I argued that we know more, we have a larger database and those who work with bilingual children who have DLD know more about that research. The challenge at this point is finding ways to put what we know into practice. I talk about the social advantages of bilingualism as well.
This section starts with a thought experiment regarding the often heard recommendation to use only one language. What would happen though if there was a decision to use only one language with a bilingual child with DLD?
Imagine a Spanish-English speaking children where the decision is made to only use English. What happens in this scenario? Would the entire family start using English (regardless of their proficiency levels in English)? If the family isn’t proficient in English, they would not be able to provide complex models of English. Errors and accents are to be expected, but I would worry about providing a model of language that is restricted because the family members are not highly proficient in English. And what happens with extended family? I could imagine a grandparent who essentially speaks only Spanish, would we expect the child to no longer interact with their grandma or grandpa? I think switching to all English would be highly restrictive. And what kids with DLD need is input, interaction, and modeling. They would miss out on the richness of family interaction. I think this would be worse for children, not better.
What if, on the other hand, the decision was to go all Spanish? Well, that might work at home but what about at school? Would the school switch to Spanish, or would the child be placed in an all-Spanish class? Would they learn to read and write in only Spanish? This seems somewhat bizarre doesn’t it? Would all the teachers, other children, aides, principal, school personnel have a high level of proficiency in Spanish?
I think it’s unrealistic to switch to only one language, and I think it can even be harmful to reduce the number of communicative partners a child has to interact with. Children learn by interacting, talking, and listening to language. Let’s make sure that our bilingual kids get all the support they can get by not taking away one of their languages.