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But We Wish To Speak Our Language In The Home - September 2009

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But We Wish To Speak Our Language In The Home

By: Alejandro Brice, Ph.D, CCC-SLP, Ellen Kester, Ph.D., CCC-SLP and Roanne Brice, Ph.D., CCC-SLP

"My husband and I adopted twin sons a little over two years ago. They were 8 months old when we brought them home from their native country Cambodia, where the only language they had been exposed to was Khmer. My husband and I are both Hispanic in culture, language and heritage. Even though we live in the Southern USA [name changed] we speak Spanish at home and with our Hispanic friends as well as, of course, family. We have always wanted to raise our children to be bilingual since that has been both of our experiences. We know that the speech delay they have is very understandable given that they are boys, twins and have been exposed to several languages. A number of English-speaking friends and professionals have suggested changing to English only at home."

"A few mothers of bilingual children have formed a website and we exchange information we learn out in the 'real world' of raising our own bilingual children. The question is, a few 'professionals', have asked that some parents stop the second language at home to develop the English or whatever the community language is. What is the standard advice? Why do we get this question so often? This really goes against our instincts to not speak our own language to our children."

The above solicitations for advice came from two mothers of bilingual children. The first mother was raising two boys with some speech and motor delays; while, the second mother was raising her typically developing bilingual children. Yet, the essential question that they ask is the same, i.e., can we speak the native language at home and raise our children in a bilingual environment? It also appears that they have been given uninformed advice to speak only the outside language at home (English in the first case as this came from the U.S. and French in the second case as this came from a parent in France).

What does the research say and what are the logical consequences of speaking the native language in the home versus speaking the outside language (e.g., English) in the home environment? Research has documented that bilingualism has cognitive and linguistic advantages (Bialytsok, 2007; Hakuta, 1986). Research with bilingual children with disabilities has also shown that bilingualism does not have any detrimental effect on language development even with children who have prominent language disabilities as seen in Down syndrome (Kay-Raining Bird, Cleave, Trudeau, Thordottir, Sutton, & Thorpe, 2005).

Kay-Raining Bird et al. stated that: There was no evidence of a detrimental effect of bilingualism. That is, the bilingual children with DS scored at least as well on all English tests as their monolingual DS counterparts. Nonetheless, there was considerable diversity in the second- language abilities demonstrated by these individuals with DS (p. 187).

Yet, why is it that professionals advocate for a monolingual perspective? Kohnert (2008) stated that in bilingual homes there exists"... the availability of rich language in the environment and diverse opportunities to develop and use a particular language for meaningful communicative interactions" (p. 10). Thus, maintaining the native language allows parents to communicate with their children in perhaps the best language medium available to them, i.e., their own native language. In addition, speaking in the other language (e.g., English) may diminish communication and possibly provide a less than rich experience and inadequate language model. It will take a child between 5-6 years to acquire native-like classroom language abilities in English (Thomas & Collier, 1997). Speaking only English at home will not accelerate English learning and may in fact delay English acquisition due to a less rich language input.

Therefore, why do professionals advocate such advice when it is not supported by the research and may go against the parent's instincts? It may be ignorance. For example, according to popular misconception it is believed that when two individuals are speaking in another language that they are talking about you. This line of thinking conveys ignorance. On a personal note, the first author spent three months at an Australian university, yet, he was unable to convince university colleagues that code switching, in some instances, was an indication of highly developed bilingual abilities. Everyone in the university audience possessed a Ph.D. degree! In this case, it appeared that these educators possessed a monolingual perspective to language use and development. As language specialists, we must take a broader view (i.e., bilingual or multilingual view) to language use and development.

It is our belief that bilingualism is a positive attribute and should be encouraged with all individuals (especially, those with language and learning disabilities). In sum, all aspects of bilingualism need to be understood.


Bialystok, E. (2007). Cognitive effects of bilingualism: How linguistic experience leads to cognitive change. The International Journal of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism, 10(3), 210-223.

Hakuta, K. (1986). Mirror of language. The debate on bilingualism. New York, NY: Basic Books.

Kay-Raining Bird, E., Cleave, P., Trudau, N., Thorodottir, E., Sutton, A., & Thorpe, A.(2005). The language abilities of children with Down Syndrome. American Journal of Speech-Language Pathology, 14, 187-199.

Kohnert, K. (2008, Feb. 12). Second language acquisition: Success factors in sequential bilingualism. The ASHA Leader, 13(2), 10-13.

Thomas, P., & Collier, V. (1997). School effectiveness for language minority students. Washington, DC: National Clearinghouse for Bilingual Education.

This Month's Featured Authors:
Alejandro Brice, Ph.D., CCC-SLP University of South Florida St. Petersburg
Roanne Brice, Ph.D., CCC-SLP University of Central Florida
Ellen Kester, Ph.D., CCC-SLP Bilinguistics, Inc.

Many thanks to Dr. Alejandro E. Brice for providing this article for this months newsletter

Dr. Alejandro E. Brice is an Associate Professor at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg in Secondary/ESOL Education. His research has focused on issues of transference or interference between two languages in the areas of phonetics, phonology, semantics, and pragmatics related to speech-language pathology. In addition, his clinical expertise relates to the appropriate assessment and treatment of Spanish-English speaking students and clients.

Dr. Roanne G. Brice is the Assistant to the Chair for the Department of Child, Family and Community Sciences at the University of Central Florida. Her research interests have focused on language and beginning literacy skills in bilingual children and students with disorders/disabilities. In addition to teaching at the university level, Dr. Brice has been an itinerant and self-contained classroom speech-language pathologist as well as a general education classroom teacher. She may be reached at

Dr. Ellen Kester is a Founder and President of Bilinquistics, Inc. She earned her Ph.D. in Communication Sciences and Disorders from The University of Texas at Austin. She earned her Master's degree in Speech-Language Pathology and her Bachelor's degree in Spanish at The University of Texas at Austin. She has provided bilingual Spanish/English speech-language services in schools, hospitals, and early intervention settings. Her research focus is on the acquisition of semantic language skills in bilingual children, with emphasis on assessment practices for the bilingual population. She has performed workshops and training seminars, and has presented at conferences both nationally and internationally. Dr. Kester teaches courses in language development, assessment and intervention of language disorders, early childhood intervention, and measurement at The University of Texas at Austin. She can be reached at

Tags: September 2009 Newsletter SLP Bilingualism Article