Question: My child’s babysitter speaks only Spanish. Could this slow down my toddler’s language development?

Patricia McAleer-Hamaguchi, Pediatric Speech Language Pathologist

No, it shouldn’t. In fact, it has been shown that exposing young children to more than one language actually helps their language skills in the long run. By the time your child reaches his later elementary school years, you may see above-average vocabulary, sentence structure, and comprehension skills. He also may have an easier time picking up new languages. However, there are some things to consider. It is important that your child keep the two languages separate — if your caregiver is speaking Spanish to your child, it should be consistently Spanish and not a mix of the two languages. Also, make sure your child has lots of opportunities to play with other children who are speaking English, if that is your primary language.

Sometimes children who are exposed to two languages in equal amounts have a slightly lower test score in both languages because they have had less practice in both, but this should improve in later years. In the long run, your child should benefit from this bilingual opportunity.

There are instances where exposure to two languages may harm development. If your child has any documented speech-language disorders or delays, such as autism,  hearing impairment, Down Syndrome, dyspraxia, etc., he should focus on learning one language only — learning two languages would be too confusing.