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Suffolk Center for Speech


Bilingualism- Spanish/English Language Learners

Given that so many individuals speak two or more languages, I thought it would be beneficial to discuss bilingualism. More specifically, we will be focusing on children that are exposed to both English and Spanish. Let’s begin by discussing a myth about bilingualism. Contrary to what you may have heard, bilingualism does not delay children’s speech and language! There is no evidence of acceleration or delay (Genesee, 2003). In fact, bilingual children babble at the same time as monolinguals (Oller, et al, 2007) and produce their first words and word combinations at the same time (Pettito, et al, 2001). Bilingual children also acquire morpho-syntactic patterns at the same age as monolinguals.

It is also important to discuss individuals that move to the US from other countries only speaking one language, and how acquisition for them takes place. Depending on their exposure to the second language (L2), these children may perform up to standard in their dominant language (L1) and be behind in their less-dominant language. In addition, it is important to note that often times children that immigrate to the US experience a change in language dominance upon entering school. During this time, English actually becomes their language of dominance, and they may lose skills in their native language. Here are some things to look for when working with children that are acquiring an L2: it takes approximately 3-5 years of instruction in English to attain native-like oral proficiency, these individuals may rely heavily on gestures at first, and older children learn faster in the short term, while younger children ultimately do better over the long term.

Another important aspect of bilingualism in therapy is determining which language is the child’s dominant language. Some characteristics that help in determining what the child’s dominant language are determining the language that has: a longer mean length of utterance, more frequent appearances of advanced grammar, fewer pauses or hesitations, more utterances in a fixed length of time, larger number of different word types, and fewer code-switching utterances.

I also thought it would be helpful to discuss some of the characteristics of language and articulation that Spanish/English bilingual individuals may exhibit. Please keep in mind, this is also great information to use for our adult English learners and accent reduction clients! Some language characteristics that you may observe include: stating adjectives before nouns (e.g. “house big” for “big house”), deleting past tense “-ed” (e.g. “He walk home”), double negatives (e.g. “I don’t have none), adverb following verb (e.g. “fast very” for “very fast”) and omission of articles (e.g. Going to (the) store). Below is a table that discusses some of the articulation differences that native Spanish speakers may exhibit when speaking English. These are great goals to address with accent reduction clients!

Articulation Differences


/t,d,n/ are dentalized


Final consonants deleted or devoiced

doze/dose or time/tai

b/v substitution

very -> /bɛrɪ/

‘th’ to /t/ or /d/

thin -> /tɪn/

Schwa inserted before initial consonant clusters

street -> /əstrit/

/ʤ/ substituted with /j/

jello -> /jɛlo/

/ɪ/ substituted with /i/

pig -> /pig/

/ʧ/ replaced with /ʃ/

chew -> /ʃu/

Genesee, F. (2003b) Bilingualism and language impairment. In R.D. Kent (Ed.), MIT Encyclopedia of Communication Disorders. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 275-278.

Oller, D. Kimbrough; Cobo-Lewis, Alan; and Pearson, Barbara Z., “Profile Effects in Early Bilingual Language and Literacy” (2007). Psychology Faculty Scholarship. 7.

Petitto, L. A., Katerelos, M., Levy, B. G., Gauna, K., Tétreault, K., & Ferraro, V. (2001, June). Bilingual signed and spoken language acquisition from birth: Implications for the mechanisms underlying early bilingual language acquisition.

– Alexandra F.

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