Raising Bilingual Children: A speech pathologist’s advice

I am absolutely thrilled to have Lauren Michele as a guest on Trilingual Mama to share some very important tips for raising bilingual children (this is her advice as a trained speech pathologist). Enjoy!

After years of guiding families as they raise bilingual children, I know how valuable possessing a second language can be to a child, and I also know the challenges that can arise in the learning process. I’m here today to share with you the one simple piece of advice I have found myself giving to parents of bilingual children again and again over the years, use visuals with your words.

Visuals give extra information about the words we use and can help your child understand what you are communicating, even if they don’t understand the words just yet. There are three types of visuals that work well to support language development

  1. Gestures and actions
  2. Objects
  3. Pictures

Gestures and actions are the most powerful visuals you can use with your bilingual child. Gestures are movements used for communication and include such things as pointing, shaking or nodding your head and waving. Actions include anything we do with our body such as sitting, kicking, jumping, pushing etc. Gestures and actions can be used on their own however when we pair our movements with words, such as waving with the words ‘hello’ and ‘bonjour’,  we help our bilingual children begin to understand that both words have the same meaning. By linking an appropriate word to gestures and actions, you help strengthen the link between a visual they understand and the different words they can use to describe it.

EXAMPLE: While building with blocks use the words “up” or “building” alone or in a sentence “we are building the tower up”. The next time you play the same building game, again describe what you are doing in another language.

Raising Bilingual Children: A speech pathologist’s advice | guest post on Trilingual Mama

Objects are another great way to include visuals in your communication with your child to help them learn more than one language.  Showing your child the actual object you are speaking about can help not only to reduce confusion and frustration, it can help your child make stronger connections between the various words you are saying and their meaning. To use objects as visual supports for your child, hold or point to the object while you are naming or talking about it. If possible allow your child to hold or touch the item as well.

EXAMPLE:  Show your child or hand them a block while telling them that you are going to build together. The next time you suggest building, you could again hold up or hand your child a block, but give the information in another language. By keeping your actions and the object the same, while altering the language you can provide an optimal environment for your child to learn multiple languages.

Raising Bilingual Children: A speech pathologist’s advice | guest post on Trilingual Mama

EXAMPLE: Try holding up a picture of building blocks while asking your child if they want to build. By including the picture, your child will understand you regardless of which language you use. Over time and practice, eventually your child will understand the information in both languages due to the support of the visual as they were learning.

Pictures are the final way you can include visuals in your interaction with your bilingual child to help them learn multiple languages. If your child is often confused by your instructions or by longer pieces of information, using pictures can be a wonderful tool to help them learn. Keeping pictures handy of things you do or places you go frequently can support your child’s understanding regardless of the language you use.

Raising Bilingual Children: A speech pathologist’s advice | guest post on Trilingual Mama

NOTE: In all of these examples, use one language at a time and avoid mixing languages in one interaction. By keeping languages separated by interaction, people or location you help reduce confusion for your child.

In the words of Frank Smith, “One language sets you in a corridor for life. Two languages open every door along the way”. Having more than one language is a blessing and by supporting your child’s language development with visuals, whether actions, gestures, objects or pictures you can create a supportive environment where learning more than one language can become an easier and a more joyful experience for you all.

Raising Bilingual Children: A speech pathologist’s advice | guest post on Trilingual Mama

About the author: Lauren Michele is an Australian trained pediatric speech pathologist, writer and holistic health advocate for children. With a great deal of love and enthusiasm, Lauren has spent the last seven years empowering hundreds of families with the information, tools and services to holistically nurture their child’s communication, learning and overall health and development.

You can find her at Nurturing Words – A place where a tribe of like minded families unite for information and support and to find the products and services to make the journey of childhood communication development joyful.

Connect with Lauren on Nurturing Words, Facebook and Instagram @nurturingwords


Nurturing Words: www.nurturingwords.com.au

Facebook:  www.facebook.com/nurturingwords

Instagram: @nurturingwords

7 Responses

  1. I don’t agree with the way some of this is phrased at all. It’s not confusing for kids, this is a baseless fear I see perpetuated all too often. As she mentioned it’s no different from learning multiple meanings of the same word or multiple names for the same object.


    Additionally, mixing languages in interactions is very normal in many parts of the world. It can help a child separate out language systems more quickly, but is definitely not a necessity.

    The advice in using visuals is excellent and spot on.

    • Maria says:

      Hi Nick! Your article explains beautifully why learning multiple words or languages for that matter is a lot simpler than what we imagine. I believe that what she stated was as an outsider’s perspective, from an adult who encounters the complexity of a language. We know that children learn language in a very different way. Thanks for sharing your article and nice to become acquainted with your blog! Cheers, Maria

  2. elodie says:

    We’ve been using baby sign language with our son, not fanatically, but a lot of things that we use in our daily life like “sleep”, “eat”, “drink”, “play” that are sometimes hard to comprehend, I find. Using it in English, French and German makes him understand faster what we mean, we found. So yes, definitely “gesture” and “word” for us!

    • Hello Elodie,
      We also did a teeny bit of sign language with our son who is now 2. What is amazing is that he has created his own signs and sounds for many objects and actions! It is the cutest thing ever and it really does help him to communicate by creating a type of bridge to meaning until he learns the real words. Thanks for stopping by!

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