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. .
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! .
What to do if you are concerned
if you want to learn more
If you want to know more about raising bilingual children, check out our Learning Hub. Watch this video about bilingualism and late talking.