Physician: Language Development in Children

Appropriate language development is very important for children to communicate wants, needs, and desires with their parents. Unfortunately, many children who are orphaned are delayed in their native language development when they arrive to their new home. This delay an make English that much more difficult to master.

The decision of whether to maintain the child’s birth language basically comes down to two things. Is it worth keeping, and how old is the child upon arrival in the United States?

Language Development for Older Children

Talking with Older Siblings

School-aged children are old enough to keep their native language, but a few factors need to exist for this to occur. There must be a need to speak the language. Usually, older sibling groups will continue to speak their native language between themselves. They sometimes consider this their secret way of communicating with each other that their parents do not understand.

Talking with Others in the Community

If the child lives in a community where other children or people speak the native language, then they may be able to keep the language. If the child speaks a certain dialect of the Hindi language, for example, and lives in Alaska where no one else speaks it, then the language will self-extinguish from lack of practice.

Language Development for Preschool-Aged Children

In the case of older children, the decision of what to do is an easy one, but what about the preschool child who is 3 to 5 years of age and already has some formal language development?

Many parents fear that if they keep the child’s native language they will have difficulty with the English language because of confusion. Other parents are at the other extreme where they hire nannies, tutors, and go to great lengths to arrange play dates with other children who speak the same language. In my personal opinion, both of these responses are correct. I generally recommend that if there is a use for the language then by all means try to salvage it.

The Learning Abilities of All Children

Children are very smart, and are capable of doing things that we as adults are not. Both of my children were raised in our Romanian-speaking household. Since their grandparents did not speak English, the primary means of communication was strictly Romanian.

English Becoming the Dominant Language

At the tender age of three, my eldest son Peter went to preschool, not knowing a word of English. It was amazing to see how, after only one to two months, he developed appropriate English language skills for his age with little to no difficulty. He is now 9 years old and speaks both Romanian and English fluently. Obviously, his English-speaking skills are far more advanced than the Romanian because he is not using it as much because he speaks only English with his younger brother, classmates, and now his parents.

Romanian Remaining the Dominant Language

Our other son Teddy, who is now 6 years old, also went to preschool at 3 years of age not knowing much of the English language. He did, however, know more than Peter did at this age because his older brother taught him during play and other activities. After one to two months he, too, developed skills in the English language with little to no difficulty.

But a very interesting phenomenon occurred with Teddy. He can still speak Romanian, but he is nowhere near as fluent as his 9-year-old brother Peter. This has occurred because, between themselves, they speak only English, and never in Romanian.

To try to maintain their Romanian language skills, we try to speak with our boys in Romanian as much as possible, but sometimes they answer back in English. In order to continue to keep their Romanian fluency, we, as a family, must exercise their skills. If we do not, they will disappear. Knowing a second language is always an asset to one’s resume and overall general fund of knowledge.