Should I speak to my child in his home language?

      Dear Dr. Kester–
I’m quoting you here:
Current research indicates that it is not detrimental for children with language delays to be exposed to more than one language.
*Can you point me in the direction of this research?
I’m American, raising my son with mild language delay in Latin America. Every single professional we’ve seen tells me I should speak to him in Spanish, even though I’m not a native speaker.
This has been a continuing battle, and they’ve only let me off the hook temporarily at the preschool on my promise I would show them some scientific research. There are almost no bilingual families where we live, and they think I’m putting my pride above his well-being.
If you’re able to answer this, please allow me to thank you now, in advance, for helping me.
A concerned parent
Dear Parent,

I’m sorry to hear about your dilemma with your son.    This is a question that is posed to us weekly when we are working in the schools.  Basically, a child is diagnosed with an impairment, and the parent is counseled to speak only English, regardless of the home language or the family’s level of fluency.  I have included some information below and would suggest that your search for research go in two directions:
1.      Showing that bilingualism is not detrimental to communicative development in children with impairments.  I believe that this is the way that you are currently heading.
a.       Below I have included information on myths and some great references at the end
b.      This data is harder to find though because the studies are fewer
Gildersleeve-Neumann, C.E., Kester, E.S., Davis, B.L., Pena, E. D. (2008).  English Speech Sound Development in Preschool-Aged Children From Bilingual English-Spanish Environments.  Language, Speech and Hearing Services in the Schools, v. 39, 314-28.
See Myths about Bilingualism for responses to many myths about bilingualism.
2.      Showing that your use of Spanish at home, when your Spanish is not proficient, is not the way to go.  There is tons of information on what a good language model is, how to intervene at home, how to support a child with a language impairment, etc.  None of this would support you struggling through Spanish and providing a monolingual –yet less proficient example for your son to follow.  I have included a presentation we did last year for the Texas State Conference on Increasing Parent Involvement.  Embedded in the slides are lots of great studies and pointers about parent involvement with references at the end.
Scott Prath

Written by: Scott Prath

One Comment on “Should I speak to my child in his home language?”

  1. November 19, 2010 at 3:39 pm #

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