What happens when children need to learn to talk in more than one language?

“Do some children find it more difficult than others?”  “If a child is struggling to talk is it just because they are learning a new language?”  These are the types of questions that are often asked when parents and professionals are thinking about children learning English as an additional language (EAL).

Lots of research shows that young children are very good at learning more than one language at the same time, and so there is no reason why they should not be exposed to their home language as well as English.  It’s important that learning more than one language starts early because infants and toddlers are particularly good at learning languages.

When we are thinking about EAL and speech and language development we know that:

  • Talking to your child in your home language will help them when they are learning English because if they understand an idea in one language it will help them to pick it up in another one.
  • It’s important for parents to talk in the language they feel most comfortable with and not feel that they must speak in English; it’s most helpful for children to learn from parents who are confident about what they are saying.
  • Children who are learning English as an additional language shouldn’t be thought of as having speech, language and communication needs (SLCN); usually they can learn language as well as anyone else.
  • But, we do know that some children who are learning English as an additional language have some form of unconnected speech, language and communication need (SLCN); this means they will have problems learning to talk in their home language as well as in English.  There can be some challenges in identifying SLCN in children who have EAL and so it’s important that when a child is assessed their language skills in both languages are thought about.

You can find out lots of information and advice about learning more than one language from the London SIG Bilingualism (www.londonsigbilingualism.co.uk).  If you want to talk to someone about speech language and communication needs and EAL, why not book a call back from one of I CAN’s speech and language therapist on 0207 843 2544.

Talk Together, our great information leaflet for parents of children in the early years,  is now available to download in eight different languages.

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