Ask the Expert – Language Acquisition

This post is a reply to a discussion posted in our Facebook group.  Click here for the original thread.


Thank you for your questions.

The topic of questions seems to be generated around language acquisition and its effect on speech development. For a typically developing child, using two languages simultaneously does NOT have a negative impact on the child’s development. Your child’s brain is meant to absorb new information and filter it appropriately. After age three, children should be able to discriminate between two different languages appropriately. Mixing two languages within a sentence is also normal when used in appropriate sociolinguistic settings (i.e. using two different languages when speaking to someone who understands both; then using only one language to someone who is monolingual).

In my clinical opinion, you can use both languages simultaneously with a typically developing child. Please see supporting evidence below. “However, there is no scientific evidence to date that hearing two or more languages leads to delays or disorders in language acquisition. Many, many children throughout the world grow up with two or more languages from infancy without showing any signs of language delays or disorders. These children provide visible proof that there is no causal relationship between a bilingual environment and language learning problems. In addition, there is no scientific evidence that giving up one language automatically has a beneficial effect on the other. In fact, the abrupt end of the use of the home language by a child’s parents may lead to great emotional and psychological difficulties both for the parents and for the child. “ This excerpt was adapted from the CAL article “Two or More Languages in Early Childhood: Some General Points and Practical Recommendations” (Annick De Houwer, University of Antwerp and Science Foundation of Flanders, Belgium)

As far as speech development is concerned, all children develop differently. Your child’s environment, social setting, family history, and interaction plays a crucial role as to how quickly they will begin to speak. To help with your child’s speech development, I would encourage a lot of conversational speech with your child. While the ‘ooh and aahhs’ is encouraged to bond with your baby, it won’t help them build vocabulary. You should show excitement and use different intonations, however, don’t forget to speak with them in normal adult conversational speech. The oldest method of helping your child build on words is of course, READING. Read as much as possible with your child. Engage them in the story by points and asking questions, even if they cannot answer them yet. Eventually they will respond. For more information on appropriate speech development, please refer to the American Speech and Hearing Association development chart. In addition to a general time line, it gives detailed methods and strategies on how to help your child with their speech development.

Please note this a general guideline. As mentioned previously, different factors affect children’s speech differently.

As part of this topic, I would like to incorporate a few detailed developmental charts that were adapted from scholastic. Please follow the links below to see the  charts for different developmental domains.

Children’s Creative Development

Motor Skills

Developmental Thinking

Development of Play

I hope that the information above will answer all of your questions. For further assistance or information, please email me at

One thought on “Ask the Expert – Language Acquisition

  1. Q: As bilingual parents, we have chosen to speak mostly Russian to our 2yo. His Russian is progressing very well, he speaks well, even conjugates. At the same time, he enjoys English programming and asks us to read books to him in English, but doesn’t speak it at all (aside from some common household words). What’s the best way (and the best timing) in your opinion to begin introducing English as a (speaking) language?
    With a normal developing child, you may speak to him in both languages simultaneously. If you ask him a question in English, and he answers it accurately in Russian, you already know that his receptive English skills are developed. You can then ask him to repeat the answer but in English (model it for him if necessary). In my opinion, you can now begin to use English with him more often with simple conversational speech. This way, he will begin to differentiate between the two languages and get into a habit of using both languages when appropriate. Once his environment is primarily English, he will begin to use the English language more often.
    Q: Our 25 months old understands complex sentences and multi-step commands in Russian, but only has an active vocabulary of under 20 words (about 5 in English; and a few sound imitations such as Moo for cow). I can see that she tries to say some words or say them more clearly, but she can’t pronounce some sounds and gives up soon. What can I do to help her?
    As mentioned previously, all children develop differently. A 25 month old having under 20 words in her vocabulary is considered normal. Having her repeat the words and withholding items until she repeats something appropriately is one method of building up her lexicon. Another way that you can help her is start off with some easy words. Some words are more difficult to pronounce than others. It may be difficult for her to string certain sounds together, therefore she becomes frustrated and gives up. Simple consonant vowel words are the easiest to pronounce ( moo, cow, she, me, chai, lay). Once she is saying those words clearly, you can attempt to have her practice combining other sounds together by: saying names of members in the family: common household items: daily needs (remember simple combination words). Then incorporate consonant vowel consonant vowel words (bunny, sunny). With these methods, she will not only be building her lexicon, but she will also practice her articulation.
    Q: How and when should you introduce and teach the English and Russian alphabets? Simultaneously? One at a time? How do you explain to a 2.5 yr old that in one language it’s “p” and in other language “r”? What’s the best routine with most success?
    This one is definitely tricky. Teaching the alphabets during separately allocated times would be the best approach when the same letter can have different sounds. You child will notice themselves that the letter is the same in a different language. When they tell you the name of the letter in a language different from the one you are learning, remind them that “Yes! You are correct, it is a p! But now, what language alphabet are we using?” (wait to see your child’s response to make sure they know they are now learning Russian) “So in Russian this letter P makes the sound r.” A great resource that I found to be fun, entertaining, and educational for children of all ages is the Russian Azbuka app. It teaches the letters, sounds that each letter makes, and has a little cartoon next to each letter to reinforce the initial sound learned.

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