Bilingualism is the ability to understand and/or use two or more languages. The term therefore encompasses ‘multilingualism’, which is the knowledge and/or use of several languages. An adult can be bilingual from childhood or become bilingual by acquiring another language(s) later in life.
A bilingual person may routinely use their languages in different contexts and for different purposes, such as home life and education or work. The bilingual person may therefore not have the same communicative skills in both their languages (Rowland, 2013).
Bilingualism is not a disorder. The research indicates that bilingualism does not cause or contribute to a speech, language, communication or feeding and swallowing disorders.
A language disorder is just as likely to affect bilingual children as monolingual children. A child with a language disorder will experience difficulties acquiring language if brought up in a monolingual or bilingual environment. A bilingual child presenting with language disorder will experience difficulties acquiring both (all) their languages.
The use of a Qualified interpreter will be used in order to provide a holistic assessment of bilingual children’s speech language and communication skills in all the languages they are exposed to and when necessary to communicate with parent/caregivers.
Families are advised to maintain the home language and that this is not given up in the belief that using English (the language of education) will support the child at school. Using just English will mean that your child only speaks English and will lose their home language. Parents who are bilingual should use the language feels most natural and they are most comfortable speaking in order to provide a rich language model for the child.
The Children’s Speech and Language Therapy Service provides a service to assess, identify and deliver intervention and advice to monolingual and bilingual children with speech language and communication needs.
Bilingualism is an advantage in a person of any age. This is regardless of the specific combination of languages and/or dialects spoken by the bilingual person. Bilingualism is an advantage regardless of the presence of a speech, language, or communication disorder, or feeding and swallowing difficulties. (RCSLT)
Strategies and advice
Watch this short video clip for more information about bilingualism and dispelling the myths.
There are lots of organisations that have information on bilingualism and speech and language development.
- Bilingualism Matters website
- National Literacy Trust website
- English and as an additional language information sheet (PDF)
Other useful websites for bilingualism
- Nadlic website - a professional forum for learning more about English as an Additional Language (EAL) and bilingual learners in schools.
- Bilingualism Clinical Excellence Network website - providing support, help and encouragement to all members and promoting the exchange of information and ideas and resources.
- Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists website - national organisation for Speech and Language Therapists, with specific advice on bilingualism.