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Things to Remember When Asking Experts
Bilingualism and multilingualism are often scapegoated when language development issues arise. That way the teacher, doctor, or other specialist won’t risk feeling at fault. So apply some healthy skepticism when you ask ‘authorities’ or specialists. And, if you’re not comfortable about what they say — or their true expertise — get a second opinion.

Remember, that in most countries a regular pediatrician has only received training in language development for monolinguals (and fair enough, they have enough to know as it is), and in many places, even general language development training is minimal. Chances are, your pediatrician has no expertise in linguistics research, bilingualism, or multilingual child development. If you’re concerned, always consult a specialized speech pathologist experienced in multilingual matters. If you don’t, you may find yourself in the same situation as Kaisa:

“My son just turned 2 two weeks ago and he has no speech. As he has been exposed to 2 languages from birth (I speak Polish, my husband English and have followed the ‘one person one language’ method), I have assumed that his speech would come later than in case of his monolingual peers. Recently his day care teacher has been making some subtle comments about him being ‘a little delayed’ in his language skills. Also my early childhood nurse has urged to see a speech specialist. So I did.

This speech specialist did not seem to have any knowledge or experience with bilingual kids even though I had explained my background and our family language policy at the time of booking the appointment. She quizzed me on why I feel it is important for my son to speak Polish and recommended that I stop. When asked why, she started wavering saying “Well, perhaps the delay is not caused by being exposed to two languages, but it has probably compounded the issue.” At that point I tuned out. Bottom line — she was not qualified and the visit was a complete waste of both time and money (a lot of it), not to mention being terribly frustrating for me!”

Unfortunately, this is not the first or the last time that ‘experts’ have offhandedly recommended dropping foreign languages once language development issues have arisen. Anything from talking late, stuttering — even shyness (and the resulting lack of communication) — have frequently and needlessly been ‘treated’ with monolingualism.

So, when you do need help, how do you find a truly qualified expert?

It may involve some detective work; I always advise looking at the leading universities in your area, ideally those with departments of applied linguistics where they typically have experience with language development in multilinguals. Then contact the departments, professors or researchers directly. Don’t be discouraged if you don’t find exactly what you look for there. University staff members are usually extremely friendly and happy to tap into their professional networks to point you to the kind of specialist you’ll need. You can always try a web search, but with such a specialized topic the results can sometimes be pretty poor. In the USA, an organization called the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association maintains a list of speech therapists, but you’d have to speak to them directly to find someone experienced with bilinguals.

Some speech pathologists are reluctant to take children under the age of 3, which is probably reasonable, since some children are just late talkers. You know your child best. If you feel strongly about it, keep pushing until someone is willing to help you. Don’t ever feel that you’re bothering a doctor or specialist, and if someone makes you feel reluctant to ask questions, find someone else. Finally, even if you get conflicting recommendations and you’re not absolutely convinced that your child needs speech training, there are several advantages to going ahead with it anyhow:

  • If there is a problem, you will catch it early, so that the duration of treatment is shorter and more effective than if you had waited.
  • Unlike medication, speech training has no side effects and can never hurt a child, even if another expert diagnoses the training as unnecessary.
  • You will sleep better at night knowing that you took action!

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