A child’s communication skills
By Georgann Yara
But when a daycare provider told Annette Castaneda that her son was too quiet, it was not exactly a compliment.
Castaneda’s son Sebastian was 2 years and 2 months old at the time. He wasn’t speaking as much as his peers and his vocabulary was short of the 40-50 words typical for a child his age.
This news stunned Castaneda, who could count about 25 words her son knew. She had no indication that her son’s verbal communication skills were not up to par.
“We did not notice any delay. We do flashcards with him, and when we give him a command, he understands what we are saying to him,” she says.
Many parents learn their son or daughter’s speech or language may be delayed. But when Latino parents are informed of any problem with their children’s communicative abilities, the question of whether their child’s bilingual upbringing is the cause is often the first one raised.
While some national studies have drawn a link between language delays in children and being raised in a bilingual setting, many experts say any real delay would likely have occurred regardless of how many languages were spoken at home.
Parent perspective: language delay
After a visit to her pediatrician, Castaneda decided to hold off on getting a screening. Her son’s doctor was not concerned; Castaneda decided she would get her son evaluated if his vocabulary or speech had not improved by the time he was 2½ years old.
Castaneda works with educators, who assured her that not every child is the same and to not be alarmed.
When the family communicates with Sebastian, about 80 percent of it is in English. His nana and tía speak to him in Spanish while Castaneda and her husband use some Spanish nouns to help with Sebastian’s vocabulary.
When told communicating in both English and Spanish could be the cause of her son’s delay, Castaneda did some research on the Internet and found documents that stated it was typical for children from bilingual homes to experience some kind of speech or language delay.
Despite her findings, Castaneda, who learned to speak English at the age of 9, will continue to use both languages when speaking with Sebastian, but says she will encourage him to respond in complete sentences instead of one-word answers.
“I never really saw speaking two languages as a disadvantage. Only an advantage,” she says. “I think he’ll be just fine.”
Parent perspective: speech delay
Tony Banegas stopped using Spanish with his daughter, who demonstrated a severe stammer at the age of 2. She knew what she wanted to say, but when she tried, her impediment physically prevented her from getting the words out. After about four years of speech therapy, his daughter, now an adult, was fine. Unfortunately, the advice Banegas received stopped him from raising her in a bilingual home.
“Initially I wanted to speak Spanish and her mother would speak English to her. We started [when she was] very young, but with her stuttering, we thought we were making it worse. We didn’t want to confuse her,” Banegas says. “But knowing what I know now … it’s just a myth. A lack of understanding.”
Bilingualism is not the problem
Raising a child in a bilingual home will not cause a serious speech or language delay, says Kathy Hinkle, a bilingual speech language pathologist for the Tempe Elementary School District, which is 51 percent Hispanic and where 20 percent of students speak Spanish at home.
In Hinkle’s experience, it’s common for children who are raised speaking two languages to be a little behind in both until the age of 6 or 7. Sometimes a child will go through a quiet phase around others until he or she feels comfortable speaking in the language spoken around them. Yet, the child is processing the information and sentence structure the entire time.
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