Do bilinguals take longer? What You Should Know!

I often hear parents and teachers express concern about whether their bilingual child will take longer to show adequate progress in reading or language. It is a valid concern that most people that have not learned more than one language experience the most.

y personal experience as an English language learner reminds me of how difficult and time-consuming it is to learn a language. It took me about a whole year to stop translating before I could respond to others during a conversation. So for me, it has always been clear that students learning more than one language must keep up with more. Nevertheless, while reading an article that discusses why bilingual children take longer to learn a language, I had some aha moments.

I always wondered why other teachers were often concerned about students making slower progress than regular peers. The article titled, Children, take longer to learn two languages at once compared to just one — don’t fret confirmed my responses about bilingual learners. Bilinguals take longer because they are learning more. A student learning two languages at the same time must learn vocabulary, grammar, oral language, and reading for both languages.

In immersion classrooms, students learn mathematics and science or social studies in the target language. This helps develop academic and oral language. On the other hand, a child learning English as a second language learns vocabulary, grammar, oral language, and reading in a new language.

Most of all this happens as they keep using their native language at home with family members. One unique difference about second language learners is the amount of time spent translating back and forth to keep up with a new language.

Most research about dual language learners says that bilinguals show slow progress in the beginning grade levels. However, they catch up as they approach upper-grade levels. As parents and educators, we must keep in mind that dual language learners are learning two languages, not just one.

These students are also known to show different strengths and weaknesses depending on their educational background. Including ongoing instructional support in school and at home. As a result, experts never recommend comparing students even when they are siblings.

The same goes for English language learners who often perform below their grade-level peers. To reach academic mastery, English learners must master the English language, in listening, speaking, reading, and writing. Furthermore, they must be able to read and understand content-area instruction.

Even mathematics can become a bit of a challenge when academic language is used to teach the content. These students must also develop the ability to predict and make connections using background information in a new language.

It is clear that it takes language learners longer to reach academic success. However, research also supports that as long as the instructional models are consistent using best practices with fidelity students to succeed. Only time allows students to show language progress and every student grows at a different rate. A child’s educational background, language exposure to both languages, and the quality of instruction contribute to his/her language development.

Related Article: Children take longer to learn two languages at once compared to just one — don’t fret

What has been your experience with your child? Is he/she experiencing slow progress towards reading or any other content area?


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