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What should I do if my bilingual toddler doesn’t talk much?

Facts vs Myths
The most common question parents ask us concerns late talkers and bilingualism. I am going to say something that will surprise some of you.
Bilingual children are not more likely than monolingual children to have difficulties with language, and bilingualism does not cause a language disorder or delay. Just like some monolingual children have a language delay or disorder, a similar proportion of bilinguals will have a language delay or disorder. This is scientifically proven, even though you might hear from your friends, family or GP that delay is normal in bilinguals.
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Late Talkers
Your child will classify as “late talker” if between the ages of 18 and 30 months they have a good understanding of language, typically developing thinking and social skills, but limited production of words for their age. This will lead you to immediately search for the ideal number of words a toddler should have, to find out if you should worry. A quick Google search will immediately puzzle you. Some websites say 50 to 300 words at 24 months, some say at least 200, while most of the national health organisation websites will not give you any indication of the number of words, but they will focus more on communicative milestones.
Research shows that there is a considerable amount of variation in the vocabulary size of all children (monolingual and bilingual), so you can meet a 24-month-old who produces short sentences such as “my truck broke today” and some who might say “truck mine”. The majority of researchers like myself who work with bilingual children will also tell you that if you are measuring vocabulary production or comprehension you should look at all the languages the child can speak and understand. So, if your child says “truck” in English, but “leche” (milk) in Spanish, these count as two words. Also, if your child says “I spilled la leche”, this is a grammatically correct sentence!
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What to do if you are concerned
So should concerned parents of bilingual children adopt a “wait and see” approach? Definitely not! If your family members or friends tell you “don’t worry, bilingual children always speak later”, you should remember that this is a myth and if you are concerned you should do whatever a parent of a monolingual child would do. The links to local services in Ireland are available at this link.
 
Mother Tongues offers a consultancy service, too, which can be face-to-face, on the phone or via Skype. All members get a free consultation and you can find out more about this here. We are also starting a drop-in toddler group, where you can come and play with your child and get lots of useful advice on how to promote language development in your child. To find out about dates and locations, please subscribe to our newsletter by clicking here. If you want to hear from other families who are raising bilingual children in Ireland you can join our Facebook group here.
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If you want to hear more
Watch this video about bilingualism and late talking
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