Since 2013, the Leibniz-Centre General Linguistics (ZAS) has been offering counselling for parents, pedagogical staff and other interested persons and institutions. You will find advice and support on all questions of multilingual education, on opportunities and problems with language acquisition and language development.

The counselling is a free service of the Berlin Interdisciplinary Network for Multilingualism (BIVEM). It can be conducted in German, English, French, Russian or Turkish by prior arrangement.

Appointment arrangement

Virtual or personal consultation at the ZAS is possible by prior arrangement. For facilities we offer a mobile counselling on site if required.

Please contact us by mail or by phone at 030/​20 19 25 62.

Counselling takes place online or in our institution:

Leibniz-Zentrum Allgemeine Sprachwissenschaft (ZAS)
Pariser Str. 1
10719 Berlin

Please note that during the school holidays (Schulferien Berlin and on public holidays there is generally no counselling.

BIVEM 17 FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) [1]

1.     Will raising children in a multiple language environment lead to speech and language delays? 

No. There is no evidence showing that raising children in a bilingual environment causes speech and language delays. Bilingual children sometimes may show different developmental stages from their monolingual peers and may know fewer words in each of the languages they speak than monolinguals [2].  

2.     I want my children to grow up multilingual. What are the advantages of being a bi-/​multilingual? 

Great. There are a number of advantages to be a bi-/​multilingual (however there are debates on this issue »bilingual advantages«). For example, 

a.     Multilingual people can more easily immerse themselves in different cultures, value other languages and traditions, and thus contribute to a cosmopolitan modern society. 
b.     Multilingualism opens up broader career prospects. 
c.     Multilingual children find it easier to learn other languages. 
d.     Multilingual people have better metalinguistic skills, which means they can think better about the characteristics and structures of the language. This is important for learning to read and write. 
e.     Multilingualism can have a positive influence on brain performance and creativity – into old age [3].  

3.     Is my child confused when they learn more than one languages spoken around? 

No. Children are incredibly sensitive to their social-communicative environments. Children can differentiate different ways people speak at an early age. Language acquisition is not made more difficult by bi-/​multilingualism [4]. 
When speaking, bilingual children may draw words from another language (also called code-switching). This is natural and typical in bilingual language development. It does not mean that children are confused about which language they are using. For more information on this topic, this informative TEDtalk »Creating Bilingual Minds« by Dr. Naja Ferjan Ramirez may help.

In addition to code-switching, bilingual children may also mispronounce words or make other errors due to the influence from one language to the other (also known as language transfer).  This is also a normal phenomenon. 

4.     What language should I use at home? 

It is better to use the language that you can speak best or you are most comfortable with instead of in a broken or grammatically-incorrect language.    

5.     Why should I use the language that I’m most comfortable with? 

It is important to have a common language in which both parents and children can express themselves well. This is essential for a good parent-child-relationship. As children grow up, conversations tend to become more sophisticated. For example, all family members need to be able to speak about their emotions, especially during puberty. 
The first language is an important building block for further language learning. If you help your children to successfully master their first language, you will provide them with excellent conditions for learning other languages, such as German as a second language. Bilingualism brings many linguistic and cultural benefits. 

6.     How to promote children’s home language skills? 

To learn a language, the most effective way is to maximize the exposure to that language. It is important to speak with your children from birth onwards and to provide them with plenty of contact to your home language(s). Grandparents, friends and social activities can also be a valuable source of language input. 

7.     What if parents speak different languages? 

There is no problem if one parent speaks one language and the other parent speaks another language with their children. Language acquisition is most effective when both parents plenty of time to speak with their children. 

8.     What are language development disorders? 

In the case of a language development disorder, a child’s language acquisition is not age-appropriate. The abnormalities show up even though the child hears well, is normally intelligent and has no other neurological or social-emotional abnormalities. Speech development disorders can be very different. 
Some children have difficulties with pronunciation, others have too small a vocabulary or problems with grammar. Several of these abnormalities can also occur together. Often it is also difficult for the children to understand language correctly. 
In the course of childhood, the symptoms change. The same child can stand out at the age of 4 by vocabulary deficits, at 5 years by grammar deficits and at 6 years by difficulties in acquiring written language. 

9.     What are the effects of language development disorders in multilingual children? 

Language development disorders always affect all languages. However, the languages may be affected in different ways. So, the symptoms of the disorder may differ in each language [5]. 

10.  Are language development disorders more severe in multilingual children than in monolingual children? 

No, studies show that language development disorders are not more severe in multilingual children than in monolingual children [6]. But often the disorders are detected only in the more severely affected children. In the case of more easily affected children, the abnormalities are often wrongly blamed on multilingualism. 

11.  Can children with language development disorders learn multiple languages? 

Yes, multilingual children with language development disorders learn all languages at the same level at which they would learn a single language. Language acquisition is not made more difficult by multilingualism. 
Under no circumstances should languages be »taken away« from the child in order to make it easier for him to acquire a language. This deprives the child of already acquired skills and future opportunities to express himself. There is also no evidence that this approach would improve the mastery of the other languages. 

12.  What is important in diagnostics? 

Information on language acquisition should be taken into account in diagnostics. Parents should know: 
a.     Since when does the child learn the second language like German? 
b.     What is the level of language development in the family language? 
c.     How intensive is the contact with both languages? 

These acquisition conditions help to decide whether or not there is a language development disorder. Because this is not easy, multilingual children are sometimes classified as speech impaired, even though their language develops quite normally for a child with the same learning background. More often, however, it is the case that a language development disorder is not recognized because multilingual children make similar mistakes as language development disordered monolingual children. 
Currently, there are only a few test procedures for a limited selection of languages that allow a survey of the language level in the family languages. Therefore, often not both languages of the child can be tested. 
 A language development disorder does not disappear on its own. It »does not grow out«. Affected children need qualified, individual therapy by a speech therapist as early as possible. Language support is not sufficient. 
For therapy, you need a prescription that can be issued by ENT, house or pediatricians. 

13.  What does reading aloud actually mean? 

Reading aloud can mean much more than adults reading to children and the children just listening. In dialogical reading aloud, the linguistic interaction with the help of books or other media is placed in the foreground. 
Involve your child in reading aloud in order to promote them optimally. Because language is best learned in dialogue, rather than by passive listening or watching. 
The interest of children is increased when there is a lively exchange about what they have read, when their questions are answered and the stories are brought to life. 
In contrast to activities where children are alone (e.B. television), reading aloud promotes the relationship with the caregiver. Because reading aloud together is associated with closeness, security and the feeling of being loved [7]. 

14.  Why is reading aloud important? 

Reading aloud helps to develop interest and joy in reading and to maintain it in the long term. 
Reading aloud broadens the horizon and promotes the imagination, as children can get to know unknown worlds (e.B. other countries or fantasy figures such as elves or dragons). 
Reading aloud trains compassion, because children learn to put themselves in the shoes of others and to understand their feelings. 

  15.  What and how can we do regarding read aloud? 

Some tips for parents: 
a.     The sooner and more often you read aloud, the better. 
b.     Use reading aloud and telling stories to strengthen your family language. 
c.     Strengthen your child’s Knowledge of German by reading aloud. If necessary, take advantage of offers in the kindergarten or library. 
d.     Turn reading aloud into a dialogue: talk about content and images, and be creative with the stories. 
e.     Reading aloud not only promotes language development, but also imagination, compassion and the parent-child relationship. 
f.      If required, take advantage of advisory and support services. 

16.  Why is important to appreciate languages? 

In early childhood, children can learn any language in the world. For them, there are no easy or difficult languages, and they can also learn several languages at the same time.   

Where society is open and appreciative of all home languages, regardless of origin or religion, people feel valued and respected.
Children respond positively to the appreciation of their home language(s). The positive attitude of parents, educational professionals, and society towards home languages inspires confidence when dealing with the languages, shows appreciation of the languages and the child’s abilities, and helps children perceive their home languages as valuable.  

Language is part of identity  
Language is part of people’s identity, culture, and traditions[8]. When moving to another country, people bring with them their languages and continue to use those heritage (home) languages even when permanently emigrating. They should have the opportunity to use their home languages and pass them on to following generations.   

Multilingual people’s intercultural and linguistic skills are a great resource for society. Furthermore, mastering one’s home language provides a good basis for learning other languages and also supports learning the majority language of the country.  

Scientific studies show that heritage(home) languages are important for people’s identity and also confidence when speaking other languages.  

Institutional support of heritage (home) languages, e.g., at school, helps to preserve the languages in the long term, shows recognition for, and a positive attitude towards multilingualism and linguistic diversity in society.  

17.  How can we support our children’s heritage (home) language learning? 

Some tips for parents: 
a.     Discuss family strategies regarding languages from early on.   
b.     Be confident in speaking your home language with your child. Your language is as valuable as any other. 
c.     Talk positively about your language and culture. Value all languages.  
d.     Provide your child with multiple opportunities to learn and speak your language, e.g., through personal contacts, clubs, institutional activities, and with the help of books or other media.  
e.     Don’t let other people’s prejudices put you off! There are no good and bad languages, multilingualism is always an asset.  
f.      Take advantage of counselling and support services where needed. 

You can find more additional information and recommendations in our flyers.

[1] Throughout this FAQs, we refer to spoken and signed languages.
[2] Genesee, F., Paradis, J., & Crago, M. (2004). Dual Language Development and Disorders. Baltimore, Maryland: Brookes.
[3] Bialystok, E., Craik, F. I., & Luk, G. (2012). Bilingualism: consequences for mind and brain. Trends in cognitive sciences, 16(4), 240–250.
[4] Guiberson, M. (2013). Bilingual myth-busters series language confusion in bilingual children. Perspectives on Communication Disorders and Sciences in Culturally and Linguistically Diverse (CLD) Populations, 20(1), 5–14.
[5] Kohnert, K., Ebert, K. D., & Pham, G. T. (2020). Language disorders in bilingual children and adults. San Diego: Plural Publishing.
[6] Armon-Lotem, S., de Jong, J. H., & Meir, N. (Eds.). (2015). Assessing multilingual children: Disentangling bilingualism from language impairment. UK: Multilingual matters.
[7] Duursma, E., Augustyn, M., & Zuckerman, B. (2008). Reading aloud to children: the evidence. Archives of disease in childhood, 93(7), 554–557
[8] Norton, B. (2010). Language and identity. Sociolinguistics and language education, 23(3), 349–369.