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FOR RELEASE: April 24, 2001
CONTACT: Dick Gunn
405/271-5601

Health Officials Encourage Language Development for Bilingual Children

Since 1927, May has been designated Better Hearing and Speech Month, a time to raise public awareness of speech and language disorders that affect 14 million Americans. This year, health professionals at the Oklahoma State Department of Health (OSDH) are taking this opportunity to increase awareness of individuals in Oklahoma who speak multiple languages and to answer questions about how speaking more than one language affects a child's language development.

Some commonly asked questions about bilingualism are:

What is Bilingualism?
Bilingualism means an ability to communicate in two languages. For some individuals, this may mean an equal ability to speak both languages, to others, this may mean one language is primary, and the second language may not be at the same proficiency level.

How Do I Teach My Child to Be Bilingual?
There are different theories on the "best" way to teach a child to use two languages. Most researchers agree that a child who is exposed simultaneously or at the same time to two languages at an early age will naturally learn to use both languages.

What Can I Expect as My Child Learns Two Languages?
Children can be expected to go through some periods of mixing the two languages and borrowing vocabulary to express ideas, sometimes within the same sentence. This occurs because vocabulary may exist in one language but not in the other. A separation of the two languages will occur gradually.

Children may experiment with the two languages to create special effects or to express themselves in specific settings. For example, one language may be identified as less formal and used for information about events related to home and family. The other language may be identified as more formal and used for activities outside the home.

Children may not be equally skilled in both languages. It is common to have greater understanding than actual use of one language. Less confusion will occur if children learn to associate the two languages differently, for example, if one language is used while speaking to the mother and the other while speaking to the father.

Will Using Two Languages Cause Speech-Language Problems?
In general, speech-language problems are less likely to occur when both languages are introduced early and at the same time. There is a greater possibility of problems if children are introduced to a second language during the preschool years after another language was used exclusively.

Parents who are concerned about their child's speech-language development should contact a speech-language pathologist certified by the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. The discovery that a child has some delays in both languages does not necessarily indicate a need for professional services. These delays may be characteristic of a two-language learner.

Professionals at your local county health department can assist you in obtaining information about your child's language development, and provide you with ideas to encourage optimal language development with your child. For more information contact the OSDH Speech Pathology, Child Guidance Service at (405) 271-4477.

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