The number of children who speak more than one language in the United States grows every day. In the early childhood years, it is not uncommon to find two different kinds of bilingualism: simultaneous and sequential. Simultaneous bilingualism refers to those children who are exposed to two languages right from birth and can occur in the following ways:
- Each parent speaks a different language to the child.
- A regular caregiver speaks a different language than the parents.
- The language used inside the home is different than outside the home.
Sequential bilingualism occurs when a child is exposed to and learns a second language after developing the first. Unlike those who experience simultaneous bilingualism, these children have a
clear majority and minority language. English is often the minority language for children who are just entering preschool and kindergarten.
This presents enormous challenges for early childhood teachers for two reasons. First, language and culture are intertwined. Especially for very young children, ways of doing are not easily distinguished from ways of talking. Learning how school is different from home can, therefore, be especially difficult.
Second, early childhood teachers must always be on the alert for any signs of language delay in young
children because of the pervasive effects it can have across all areas of academic development. However, it is extremely difficult to detect speech or language delays in children who speak multiple languages. The following general guidelines can help:
- Obtain information about the child's entire language system by looking to see if rough milestones were met since birth, whether they occurred in one language alone or split evenly or unevenly across both. Use a trained interpreter to gather the complete picture.
- Look for warning signs that do not appear to be attached to a specific language, such as prolonged or extreme mutism, syntactical errors that are not normally found in either language, or difficulty when attempting to retrieve words from either language.