Bilingual child speech development

Last Updated on October 9, 2023

The first part is about methods. Now about typical phases of bilingual child speech development and crises by bilinguals.

Unfortunately, at no stage we can say that all the difficulties are behind and then everything will be great and easy.

Bilingual children part 1
Education system in Baden-Württemberg
A non-speaking child. Part 1. Norm and problems
Benefits for families in Germany
German school cone (Schultüte). How to make
German primary school. Orientation. Must and can – school obligation

Phases of bilingual child speech development

Stage 1. Up to 3 years – the beginning of speaking

Some children start talking at the same time as monolinguals. Others have severe speech delays. If after 3 years old of your child you are still told (and German pediatricians are saying this) that the child is bilingual, delay is the norm, refer them to the WHO materials. There are articles in English where it is said that both wrong: not paying attention to the delay and requiring the same vocabulary as monolinguals.

True, no one can provide adequate statistics, since the input data is too various:

  • the number of children in the family,
  • languages in the family,
  • quantity of TV,
  • education of parents
  • the behavior of older children with the younger, etc.

As a result pediatricians react to speech delay of bilingual children much later than monolingual children.

Important: if there is still no recognizable words – in both language – about 3 years old, you must start examinations and search for special kurses. For all termins you must wait for at least 6 months, therefore 3 year old is time to take appointments.

All about speech therapy problems – read my full review.

Bilinguals can mix the languages – up to approximately 4 years. It is assumed that up to 3 years old children only sort languages.

For the second child it is more difficult as for the first. The second child in any case receives German at home, even if both parents speak foreign language because of the first grown-up child. After all, the elder needs to listen to audiobooks and films in German. Otherwise he will not have a normal vocabulary for school.

So, the main problems of this period are speech delay and languages mixing.

Stage 2. Kindergarten

There can easily be two extremes here. Full transition to German as the language of the environment. And complete (even sometimes aggressive) disregard for German.

For families where German is not spoken at home, it is easier in this situation. If the child has switched to the language of the environment, then just gently ask again, endlessly translate into your language, without pressure. Not allow yourself to get angry, but consistently repeat. Remove all German media sources if possible for a while.

If a 3-4 year old child still ignores German, it is not bad. He collects a vocabulary. Do not press on him with German. This is still the time of the mother language.

Families where partners speak different languages, one of which is German, find it much more difficult. Only the creation of an artificial language environment will help here: regular meetings of children who speak second language, trips to relatives for a long time, long visits by a grandmother who does not speak German. The rules different situations – different languages must be followed.

So, the main problem – rejection of one language. If it is German – it is not bad, do nothing. If it is family language – translate what the child talk from German to your language. Do not speak German with the child, if you want to keep your language.

Stage 3. 5 years old

Once you have relaxed and decided that everything is going fine, as usual, when the crise of 5 years comes. In German kindergartens, they are finally beginning to more or less work with children and prepare them for school. For the child it is time when he understand, that there are different languages, that his language is not popular / not speaking in the Kindergarten, that he has another nationality.

You get immediately some problems. I had them all.

– he does not know German enough. Yes, bilinguals have less vocabulary than monolinguals for each language, but more in total. And the school knows about it, but it is unlikely to make a discount.

search for a tutor (search in Nachhilfe, societies of compatriots, high school babysitting children with good language),
visit a speech therapist (learn missing grammar),
take films and audiobooks from the library (not only fiction, but also popular science).

– “clever” pediatricians are trying to send the child to a special school as not knowing the language. I personally got this referral, so it’s not a myth.

What to do:
1. Do not react to the pediatrician, he has no right to do so, unlike the doctor from Schulamt.
2. in various flyer for parents in different regions and in regional laws on education, it is indicated that bad German (as opposed to the native language) is not a reason for attendance special school.

– they are trying to assign you a social teacher to help you in the language. This is such a contract with the city and the Jugendamt, which you yourself cannot break if you put your signature – only they can break it.

What to do:
Ask a speech therapist – a social teacher is not your topic. In some cases, having a social teacher in history is really harmful for you, since for bureaucracy it is social benefits, assistance from the state. Although you personally don’t get a cent.

– the child is trying to switch to German completely. He does not want to be a black sheep, he considers himself a German. He doesn’t understand why he should speak another language.

Solution: persuade, discuss, show examples.
A year before school – time to learn to read in your native language. On the contrary (after learning to read in German) it is not good for the native language.

– the child tries to switch to family language and abandon the language of the environment. He is unlikely to succeed. But he will spoil your nerves by abandoning German at the most insuitable moment, like a test at a pediatrician.

patience, discussion, demonstration of examples,
nice (friendly, talkative, able to play with little ones) tutor-babysitter from high school. I had a bilingual girl from 9. grade. She was super – she spoke German very good, but also another language, i.e. she was also a example for my son.

Stage 4. First grade

I thought that I had already gone through all the circles of hell, but no. In two months of school, the family language flew away and war long in space flight. Lost: normal intonation, passive vocabulary, recognition of letters.

study family language as a school subject. Preferably with at least one more child,
do not give up reading books (not only fiction),
do not give up listening to audiobooks.

Stage 5. Teenager crise

We have not yet reached this stage, but they say that children are again trying to abandon the family language so as not to be a black sheep. I think that if all the previous stages were successfully passed and the language was formed, then there should be no serious problems.
However, reading and writing skills can be lost.

Considering all the difficulties, the question – why torture both children and parents?

Everyone answers this question differently. If a mother herself perfectly and without restrictions speaks another language and does not lose absolutely nothing in it in topics and in expressing herself, then the rejection of one language can be understood.

But most of us don’t know German so gut. Therefore, keeping of the family language is the keeping of an emotional and intellectual relationship with children. It is simple about just to stay with loved ones together.

Speaking in German with children, I narrow the range of topics for communication to the minimum. That is, I lose it for myself in emotional communication, in communication on scientific, political, whatever topics that are more than the “kitchen” language. As one friend said: I found that I can’t explain to my son in German emotionally enough why he shouldn’t kick the trash can.

All our relatives do not speak German. I cannot deprive my mother of grandchildren, and children of my relatives.

Moreover knowledge of different languages improves understanding and perception of each of them. Family language can be second language for gymnasium und can help in the profession.


Do not forget to discuss everything with your partner in advance. Ignore those who promise bilingual “by itself”. This leads to disappointment and perplexity, when it does not work out.
Do not react to those who tell about miraculous cases. Most likely, the mother did a lot with the child, she simply does not consider these activities to be Activities. Or there is a grandmother who was engaged, etc.

My experience shows: the quality of the language depends on how much the parents speak with the child. If they stopped correcting from German into family language, they began to communicate with the child in German – the family language disappears.

If you are disciplined, do not be ashamed of your foreign language and have enough speech time with child – he has a normal level of language, even if not 100 percent. But as soon as you give up, the family language disappears as if by magic.

So speak as much as possible. Do not duplicate the German school with the own language version, this can cause irritation. But talk to your child about all these topics – explain physical phenomena, name trees and flowers, learn the multiplication table…

I wish everyone success in our difficult bilinguals work.

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