Learning More Than One Language

[en Español]

Children can learn to use more than one language. They can learn languages at home, at school, or in the community. Some children can use multiple languages easily. Sometimes they know one language better than others. Over time, the language they use most may change. For example, a child who speaks Spanish at home may start to use English when they start school. To promote multilingualism, help your child develop and maintain their languages by talking, singing, playing, and reading together in the languages you use.

Using multiple languages is like any other skill. You need a lot of practice to do it well. Every multilingual child is unique. Learning two or more languages depends on the amount and type of practice your child gets. Here are some basic guidelines:

  • Start early. Begin using your languages with your child as early as possible; the more input the better. Most multilingual children use their first words by the time they are 1 year old. By age 2, most multilingual children use two-word phrases. Phrases like “my ball” or “more juice” can be expressed in one or more languages.
  • Be supportive. Your child may be shy about using their languages. Support them by creating opportunities to use their languages daily and sharing the benefits of multilingualism. The more they practice their languages, the better users they will be.
  • Value practice over perfection. Encourage your child to use their languages, even if they make some mistakes. Exposure and practice are needed to build speech-language skills in any language.
  • Don’t worry about errors. You may notice that your child may mix grammar rules from time to time. They might even use words from different languages in the same sentence. Don’t worry; this is a normal part of learning and using more than one language at a time.

Benefits of Using More Than One Language

The number of people in the United States who use more than one language is growing. Being multilingual has advantages, including being better at

  • learning new words and languages,
  • putting words into categories,
  • understanding math concepts,
  • coming up with solutions to problems,
  • listening to and connecting with users of your languages,
  • understanding others’ perspectives,
  • shifting and focusing attention to important details, and
  • adding value to a modern—and diverse—workforce.

Teaching Your Child to be Multilingual

Communicate with your child in the language(s) you are most comfortable using. Language practice with you is important—it helps your child produce sounds, learn new words, use full sentences, tell stories, and socialize. Exposure to more words and conversations, no matter the language, can help your child succeed in school.

There are different ways to learn another language. You can learn in these ways:

  • By setting. Maybe your child will use English at school and speak Urdu at home.
  • By topic. Your child may speak English when discussing a subject at school but French when discussing a video game.
  • By speaker. Maybe one parent uses American Sign Language (ASL) and English, whereas the other uses English and Mandarin Chinese.

Children learn languages best by having good language models and practicing in different settings and about different topics. This will help your child communicate with family and community members, maintain relationships, and build their cultural identity. 

Ways to Help Your Child Become Multilingual

  • Books. Shared book reading can include traditional, electronic, wordless, or multilingual books. Read with your child, and talk about characters, events, and personal experiences. The conversation can be multilingual.
  • Music. Listening to music and singing is a great way to introduce another language to your child. You can talk about song lyrics and incorporate music into play. And, it can be a lot of fun!
  • TV and videos. Children’s programs are available in many languages. These programs teach children about numbers, letters, colors, and simple words. Promote reading and understanding by turning on the subtitles for school-aged children.
  • Language-learning programs. Children can learn other languages at camps, in clubs, or in dual-language programs. These options give children the chance to use their languages with other children. These programs may help your child become biliterate too.

Children With Speech and Language Problems

Remember, children all over the world learn more than one language all the time. Multilingual children develop language skills just as other children do. You will not confuse your child, cause or worsen speech or language problems, or slow down their learning by using your languages with your child. In fact, having a strong foundation in one language supports additional language learning!

However, some children do have speech or language problems that show up in all languages. Talk with a speech-language pathologist, or SLP, if you worry about your child’s speech and language skills.

To find a speech-language pathologist near you, visit ProFind. You can filter your search by location, specialty, and languages.

Other Resources

This list does not include every website on this topic. ASHA does not endorse the information on these sites.

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