Q: We are raising our 21-month-old son in a bilingual family. He understands both English and French, but says very few words. He also tends to get very frustrated since he can’t fully communicate with us. Should I be worrying that his speech is not quite up to speed with his peers’?
A: This is a very important question. Between ages one and three, there is a wide variation in what’s considered normal in a child’s speech and language development. Especially relevant to your son’s case are some recent studies that show children who are raised bilingually may mix up words in both languages and may have problems with syntax (putting words together) until age three. However, he should still be meeting certain milestones. By 18 months to two years, he should be saying at least 50 words and maybe some two-word sentences. By age three, many children raised in a bilingual household are fluent in both languages, although they may prefer one over the other.
I would watch to see that your son’s total word count has increased by his second birthday. We have learned that language development is extremely important and that any delays may persist as the child grows. This makes early recognition of problems crucial.
Right now it sounds as if your son is doing OK. Many children at this age get frustrated as their thoughts out-speed and outreach their vocabulary. Just make sure you give him time to say what he wishes and help him along with the occasional new word.