Pin It
Thursday, August 15th, 2013

Why is My Bilingual Child’s Vocabulary Below Her Peers?

Dad reading to bilingual kids via Shutterstock

Dear Dr. Gupta,

 

Some background information first: We are raising our children German-English bilingually in the U.S. I am a native German and I speak German with the kids, but my husband speaks English and pre-school, school, etc. is all in English. There are not many other German-speaking families in the area we live. Our four- and six-year-old girls both speak German (with some grammar mistakes). I mainly contribute this to the twice yearly visits (usually for 2-3 months) from my German speaking parents and our yearly visits to Germany over the summer.

 

The oldest just turned six, she is in Kindergarten and just got her IOWA test of basic skills results back. She did very well overall but it was interesting to note that her vocabulary skills were well below all of her other skills. Reading, comprehension, listening (and math) were all well above 90%, but the vocabulary portion came in as 62%.

 

I was wondering if that is something common to bilingual kids? Do you know if others have had the same experience?

 

The books we are reading to the girls are mostly in German (Daddy reads only 1-2 per week in English on average) and we tend to focus as much as possible on German since it gets so little attention otherwise during their daily lives. But I am wondering now if I do need to start working and focusing on the girls’ English vocabulary some more? I am thinking to include some picture dictionaries in English (and both German and English) into our readings.

 

Thank you so much for any help and advice you might have.

 

~ Concerned about English Vocab

 

Dear Concerned about English Vocab,

 

Simply put, don’t worry, and keep using German.

 

It’s likely that the children spend more time with you than with their father, and that German is their primary language.  The six-year-old should acquire more and more English as she progresses through school. You should see her score increasing a year from now.  As you are in the U.S., it is more important to keep up the children’s strengths in German, as they will naturally switch, over time, to having English as their main language.

 

It used to be thought that bilingual children were behind other children, but that was because they were being tested in only one language. You would get a better idea of the six-year-old’s vocabulary level if you tested her in both languages. But don’t do this.

 

I would advise you to keep going with the German. You should see the vocabulary scores in English going up year by year. The more English you bring into the home, the less likely it is that she will want to keep speaking German.

 

Dr. Gupta

For more on this topic see Do Bilingual Children Know Fewer Words than Monolinguals?

© 2013, The Editors. All rights reserved.

More Great Stuff You'll Love:


Are Germans Really Rude?

This German dad shares his thoughts

A Different World: No Longer Brown in White America

Is it racist to not want to raise your kids in white America?

Don’t Touch My Child! Lessons from Asia

Has the West taken fear too far?

ABOUT THE AUTHOR


InCultureParent is an online magazine for parent's raising little global citizens. Centered on global parenting culture and traditions, we feature articles on parenting around the world and on raising multicultural and multilingual children.

Leave us a comment!

1 Comment
  1. CommentsUte   |  Thursday, 15 August 2013 at 2:00 pm

    I wouldn’t compare a bilingual or multilingual child to monolinguals. Children who grow up with more than one language learn two or more vocabularies and will result ‘below normal’ in monolingual tests. Usually Multilinguals catch up easily. Be aware that multilinguals have always one (or two!) dominant languages and they never have exactly the same proficiency in all the languages they acquire.









Notify me of follow-up comments via e-mail.
Or leave your email address and click here to receive email notifications of new comments without leaving a comment yourself.

Get weekly updates right in your inbox so you don't miss out!



Why I Travel 13 Hours Alone with My Kids Every Chance I Get

Travelling with children, while definitely more of a mission, contradicts the old saying that “life is about the journey, not the destination.”

A Diverse Book for Preschoolers in Celebration of Multicultural Children's Book Day

A book that honestly and simply celebrates the every day diversity that children experience.

Why My African Feminist Mother Gave Me the Identity of My Father's Tribe

She gave me an identity so different from her own.

2 Children’s Books about Jamaica

Explore Jamaica with your child.

Costa Rica with Kids: Two Weeks of Family Travel

Two weeks of Pura Vida in a country with so much to offer families.

Should I Worry about My Child's Accent in Her Foreign Language?

See why Dr. Gupta takes offense to this question and where children learn accents from

How to raise trilingual kids when exposure to Dad's language is limited

My kids only get 1-2 hours of the minority language per day-help!

What Cultural Norms Around Bare Feet Taught This Mother in Guatemala

Her baby's bare feet ended up being a lesson on poverty and privilege.
Hi Kim! I am so glad that this article was useful for you and made you feel validated as a parent. It's not often in this judgmental world of parenting we get that, right?! That's the main reason...
From The West’s Strange Relationship to Babies and Sleep
I love reading your work. I can olny imagine what it would be like to have such beautiful customs and true community. I understand why it is so very very important to keep these traditions alive. Be...
From No Kids Allowed: How Kenyan Weddings are Changing
Your mother in-law seems somewhat reasonable. Many Chinese Mother In-laws are not. In their scenario, they would be number 1 to the child and you would be number two. Many want to have a bond closer...
From How My Chinese Mother-in-Law Replaced my Husband
I think Konstantina is actually responding to what is probably more familiar/praised/or preferred socially as well. I was an English teacher in Poland with a distinct accent. I struggled to get Engl...
From Should I Worry about My Child’s Accent in Her Foreign Language?
Noor Kids' title "First Time Fasting" is another great rea...
From 6 Favorite Children’s Books about Ramadan
This article was shared in a community I run to connect globetrotting parents and everyone LOVED it. You should join us! We all relate to your experience. Many of us, including me, are in the same b...
From Why I Travel 13 Hours Alone with My Kids Every Chance I Get
Please help: I Love my wife and my son. I am also EXTREMELY involved as a dad. I had to move to china ( in a tiny tiny town) where I am the only foreigner so that my wife can take over the family bu...
From How My Chinese Mother-in-Law Replaced my Husband
Thanks for writing this!! My baby is 7 months, and I love having her sleep in my room. I don't mention it too often to people who have had kids because they seem a little judgy on it. So tonight I...
From The West’s Strange Relationship to Babies and Sleep
Honestly, it looks like the author married into a very backward and old fashioned family. Not stimulating children's curiosity, differences between boys and girls, and women slaving in the house, wh...
From French versus Italian Parenting in One Multicultural Family

More I Need Help! Ask A Linguist