Q&A: Toddler Learning English and Arabic Not Speaking

CME WebsitesChild Development, Toddlers 12 - 36 Months

blockquote_bgMy son is 2 years and 10 months, and we’ve been living in Saudi Arabia since he was 14 months. Saudi Arabia is a closed off segregated country where there isn’t much interaction or activity to be done. My son is also raised bilingual: equal amounts of English and Arabic. He’s an only child so far and walked at 9 months; he’s also very independent as he would play by himself and entertain himself all day and also he is really stubborn. He’s barely speaking; he has a lot of one words but they aren’t pronounced properly or completely. He understands everything we tell him in both Arabic or English and can point to anything we ask him to including shapes, numbers and letters; he just wont repeat their names.
I’ve tried ignoring him and not getting what he wants until he uses words. He would get frustrated and after awhile give up and just walk away without even getting what he wants. We asked a doctor here about his delay and he said that a lot of children raised here speak late due to the lack of interaction and activities and he’ll talk when he’s older. What are your suggestions or treatments? I am traveling back to the States at the end of the month and will stay for 3 months… is that adequate time for therapy?

We have a nice article on our website regarding early bilingualism that you may want to read. These are the typical speech milestones for children ages 24-36 months.

It is true that children learning two languages simultaneously will typically speak a bit later than average. It is good that your son is showing an understanding of both languages, as it is typical with even single language learners that children understand far more than they can actually articulate. By age two, we expect children to have at least 50+ single words in their vocabularies and to be picking up new words on a weekly basis. We also expect children to be combining 2-3 words into simple phrases by this time, such as “want ball”, “daddy work”, etc. We do not begin to look at the articulation or how clearly words are pronounced until after the age of three, so don’t be too concerned about your son’s articulation yet, but focus more on building his single word vocabulary and encouraging him to combine words into 2-3 word phrases.

Here are some tips for parents teaching 2 languages:

  •  Give your child plenty of practice in both languages. Children need to hear and speak each language often to learn the words and grammar of both.
  •  Children learn languages best from you. Tapes and videos don’t work as well as a real person using language in everyday situations such as playing, shopping or just talking.
  •  Read to your children in both languages, this is a great way to build vocabulary and early reading skills.
  •  Don’t be surprised if one language becomes stronger than the other. It’s common for one to become dominant, and it’s usually the one the child hears and uses most.
  •  Have patience with mistakes, articulation errors or language switching. This is a normal part of learning two languages (and might even show a special skill). With more practice, these mistakes will fade.

This is a link for a website that has a lot of information and 2 different perspectives on bilingualism.

Since your son will be turning 3 soon, he may still be eligible for early intervention speech services at the 3-5 preschool level. Babies Can’t Wait is the early intervention program in Georgia for children 0-3, so you may want to contact them to get information regarding services beyond 0-3, this is their link.

Enrolling him in preschool for three months for socialization with same age peers would probably be very beneficial to him since you stated that he is isolated and does not have much opportunity for interaction with peers while in Saudi Arabia. If he qualifies for speech therapy, he could also receive these services while in preschool.