life of
dr. mom

Does Learning Two Languages at the Same Time Cause Speech Problems or Speech Delay?

I grew up in a bilingual household.  My family speaks both English and Cantonese.  I don’t use my Cantonese language as much as I used to anymore.  But I want my daughter Madi and my son George to be fluent in Cantonese. Someone once told me that learning two languages may negatively affect speech development which made me wonder what the research says.  

Does learning two languages cause speech or language delays? 

The medical evidence largely suggests that the answer to this question is no! Learning two languages at the same time has not been shown to cause speech delay or language problems. Bilingual children as young as preschool age are able to differentiate between two languages.  They also learn which contexts and how to use each language.  

Bilingual children have a tendency to mix up languages and vocabulary early in life.  But this typically resolves by 36 months old.  By 36 months old, children can be fluent bilingually.  

Will my bilingual child have worse vocabulary skills?

Current medical literature has found there is no increase in speech problems, which includes no delay in vocabulary development for bilingual children.  

Most bilingual children do not acquire both languages at the same time, in the same way, and with the same skills. It is very normal for a bilingual child to be stronger in one language compared to the other. This does not suggest speech delay or speech problems.  

If you are worried about your child’s speech development, there are certain red flag milestones to look out for.  These red flag milestones also apply to bilingual children.  

Can my child “lose” a language?

For a child to maintain language skills, they need to have frequent exposure to the language.  As long as the second language is spoken regularly (either at school or in the home) they will likely not lose their language skills.  

I hope to encourage my children to speak Cantonese with me and my family members.  It will also help me to keep up my fluency as well!

This post was co-authored by Suzanne Black, MD, BSc, Stephanie Liu, MD, MSc, CCFP, BHSc, and Erin Manchuk, BScPharm, BCGP .


  1. Chiocca EM. Language development in bilingual children. Pediatr Nurs 1998; 24:43.
  2. Bosch L, Sebastián-Gallés N. Native-language recognition abilities in 4-month-old infants from monolingual and bilingual environments. Cognition 1997; 65:33.
  3. Oller DK, Eilers RE, Urbano R, Cobo-Lewis AB. Development of precursors to speech in infants exposed to two languages. J Child Lang 1997; 24:407.
  4. Bialystok E. Effects of bilingualism and biliteracy on children’s emerging concepts of print. Dev Psychol 1997; 33:429.
  5. Umbel VM, Pearson BZ, Fernández MC, Oller DK. Measuring bilingual children’s receptive vocabularies. Child Dev 1992; 63:1012.
  6. Bruck M, Genesee F. Phonological awareness in young second language learners. J Child Lang 1995; 22:307.
  7. Galambos SJ, Goldin-Meadow S. The effects of learning two languages on levels of metalinguistic awareness. Cognition 1990; 34:1.
  8. Bialystok E. Levels of bilingualism and levels of linguistic awareness. Dev Psychol 1988; 24:560.
  9. Byington CL, Hobson WL, Olson L, et al. The good habit of reading (El Buen Habito de la Lectura): parental reactions to an enhanced Reach Out and Read program in a clinic for the underserved. J Health Care Poor Underserved 2008; 19:363.
  10. Coplan J. Normal speech and language development: an overview. Pediatr Rev 1995; 16:91.

A Step by Step Guide of how to sleep train

Sleep training is a personal choice and there are many happy thriving families that do not sleep train. My husband and I decided to sleep train our daughter Madi after 11 months of interrupted sleep. What is important to know


Jaundice and Newborns

Some degree of jaundice occurs in a large majority of all newborn infants.  Jaundice is a condition where a newborn baby’s skin turns yellow.  This can happen with any race or colour of the skin.   Why Does Jaundice Occur So Frequently in


Safety of Suspended Baby Jumpers

A common question I have been asked is about the safety of suspended baby jumpers like the Jolly Jumper. Personally, both of my kids loved the jolly jumper from the start and would giggle almost the entire time they are