What are the language milestones I should look out for in my bilingual child?

What are the language milestones I should look out for in my bilingual child?

Language milestones is a highly talked about topic among parents, who are understandably concerned about their child’s speech development. Language development is important in your child’s overall development as it enables your child to express their feelings, think for themselves, and maintain relationships with those around them.

In this blog post, we summarise the language milestones that you can expect at the respective ages in a typically developing child. As explained in our earlier post, bilingualism is not usually linked to speech delays and bilingual children experience the same language developmental milestones as monolingual children.

There are however, a few things to note when looking at language development milestones for bilingual children:

  1. Look at the sum of the words a child knows across both languages for the milestones. E.g. the same 50-word vocabulary that monolingual speakers reach is divided across two languages for bilingual children.
  2. Don’t be too concerned about pronunciation, especially before 4 years old.
  3. “Code mixing” or “code switching” is a natural part of bilingualism and should not be recognised as “mistakes”. E.g. If your child says “I eat 苹果”, it is still considered a 3-word sentence.
  4. At any point in time, if you are concerned about delays in language milestones, it is best to talk to your paediatrician or a speech therapist so they can do a proper assessment and provide any necessary help.

Age

Understanding

Speaking

By 18 months

  • understand up to 50 words and some short phrases
  • follow simple instructions (e.g. put it back)
  • point to familiar objects when named (e.g. where’s the ball?)
  • point to some pictures in familiar books
  • say 6 to 20 single words (some easier to understand than others)
  • copy words and noises
  • name a few body parts

By 2 years

  • follow 2 part instructions (e.g. Go to your room and get your shoes)
  • respond to simple what and where questions
  • point to several body parts and pictures in books when named 
  • understand when an object is ‘in’ and ‘on’ something.
  • say more than 50 single words
  • combines 2 to 3 words to form a sentence
  • use their tone of voice to ask a question (e.g.,‘teddy go?’)
  • say ‘no’ when they do not want something 
  • start to use ‘mine’ and ‘my’.

By 3 years

  • follow more complex two part instructions (e.g., give me the doll and throw the ball) 
  • understand what, where who
  •  understand the concepts of ‘same’ and ‘different’ 
  • sort items into groups when asked (e.g., toys vs food) 
  • recognise some basic colours.
  • say four to five words in a sentence 
  • use a variety of words for names, actions, locations and descriptions 
  • ask questions using ‘what’, ‘where’ and ‘who’ 
  •  talk about something in the past, but may use ‘-ed’ a lot (e.g., ‘he goed there’)
  • have a conversation, but may not take turns or stay on topic. 

By 4 years

  • answer most questions about daily tasks  understand most wh-questions, including those about a story they have recently heard 
  • understand some numbers
  • show an awareness that some words start or finish with the same sounds.
  • use words, such as ‘and’, ‘but’ and ‘because’, to make longer sentences 
  • describe recent events, such as morning routines
  • ask lots of questions 
  • use personal pronouns (e.g., he/ she, me/you) and negations (e.g., don’t/can’t)
  • count to five and name a few colours.

By 5 years

  • follow three part instructions (e.g., put on your shoes, get your backpack and line up outside) 
  • understand time related words  (e.g., ‘before’, ‘after’, ‘now’ and ‘later’) 
  • start thinking about the meaning of words when learning
  • understand instructions without stopping to listen 
  • begin to recognise some letters, sounds and numbers.
  • use well formed sentences to be understood by most people 
  • take turns in increasingly longer conversations
  • tell simple, short stories with beginning, middle and end 
  • use past and future verbs correctly (e.g., ‘went’, ‘will go’) 

 

In Singapore’s context, bilingualism is an important aspect of language development for our young children. While bilingualism may seem to impact your child’s language milestones, it is important to evaluate the child holistically, based on their progress in both languages, instead of only a single language.

References

Chan, E. (2001). Language development in bilingual children:

A primer for pediatricians. Retrieved 20th January from https://www.contemporarypediatrics.com/view/language-development-bilingual-children-primer-pediatricians

Lowry, L. (2016). Bilingualism in Young Children: Separating Fact from Fiction. Retrieved 20th January from http://www.hanen.org/helpful-info/articles/bilingualism-in-young-children--separating-fact-fr.aspx

Pena, E, Bedore, L & Kester, E (2015). Assessment of language impairment in bilingual children using semantic tasks: two languages classify better than one. Retrieved 20th January from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5902179/

Speech Pathology Australia. Communication Milestones. Retrieved 20th January from

https://www.speechpathologyaustralia.org.au/SPAweb/Resources_for_the_Public/Children_Communication_Milestones/SPAweb/Resources_for_the_Public/Communication_Milestones/Communication_Milestones.aspx?hkey=fb6753df-a757-4c4a-8100-aaebdd4451fd

 

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