What to say when the doctor gets it wrong…….

And not just the doctor! Welcome to this week’s post which is all about what to say when people tell you bilingualism is confusing or not an option for your child. It might be your doctor who tells you this, your child’s kindergarten teacher, or well-meaning friends and relatives. In these situations it can be hard to think of what to say in response as you might be feeling stunned by the comment. By the end of this post though you’ll have a range of options at the ready! Parents on this Facebook group gave me lots of ideas  so a big thank you to them!(https://www.facebook.com/groups/106547209394767/permalink/913439125372234/?comment_id=996594643723348&notif_t=group_comment_reply&notif_id=1463689413078801)


I am delighted to have Brian Goldstein, Vice President for Academic Affairs and Professor of Communication Sciences and Disorders at LaSalle University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA joining me for this post. Brian’s research focuses on speech sound development and disorders in Spanish-English bilingual children. He’s also a contributor to a blog called 2 Languages 2 Worlds which you can check out here: https://2languages2worlds.wordpress.com/about/


Okay, so let’s start with the health care professionals or HCPs. This is tricky for a number of reasons. Power is at play in these encounters with the balance of power being held by the professional. It’s not easy to challenge an expert especially if they present information as it if it was an uncontested fact. And it’s natural to shy away from disagreeing with the HCP in this situation especially if you need a referral to another service. And is also depends on your own personal style of disagreeing; some people feel very confident disagreeing while for others conflict is stressful. It also depends on how well you know your HCP,  the kind of relationship you have with them, and their own ways of handling disagreement or challenge.

The tips are written with the HCP or teacher in mind but many of them will also be helpful when responding to well-meaning relatives and friends. Be sure and leave a comment to let us know how you got on if you tried any of the tips.

So what can you do? Here are 12 tips:

#1 Know your stuff!

First of all you can inform yourself about bilingualism before you encounter the HCP so that you feel confident that you are doing what’s right for your family. Here’s a post I wrote for Multilingual Parenting about facts and fictions of early bilingual language development: http://multilingualparenting.com/2016/01/27/early-bilingual-language-development-facts-and-fictions-guest-post/

And Brian also recommends this resource from Madelena Cruz-Ferriera http://beingmultilingual.com/Articles___Chapters.html

#2 Remember what you have in common

I had to keep reminding myself of this recently during an encounter with my daughter’s teacher. We were not on the same page at all about a goal that she had unilaterally decided upon. I kept reminding myself that we had the same ultimate goal which was the best interests of my little girl. Now we had totally different ideas about what was actually in her best interests but we both had her best interests as our shared intention. It definitely helped me to remind myself ‘She means well. Her intention is positive’. And it helped me to stay calm and not throttle her!! Which leads me to #3.

#3 Stay in neutral

Not easy! But it’s better to stay calm and take a breath or two before you respond. Or count to ten before saying anything! And speak slowly and calmly.

#4 Say nothing

You could try not saying anything in response. Remain silent.  This would take some courage as in some cultures (definitely in Ireland!) we are averse to silence. But that could work to your advantage and the HCP might just move onto another topic. I’d probably practice this at home first!

 #5 The bare minimum

You could say ‘Uh huh’- a minimal response which means you’ve taken your turn in the conversation. Then move the conversation on to something else like ‘And what about his hearing?’ So you’ve acknowledged the comment but not engaged with it.

 # 6 A little more

Other things to say include:  

  • Thank you. I’ll bear that in mind. (You don’t have to agree with them but you don’t have to engage either)
  • We’re doing what works for us a family and we’re happy.

This one might require a little more courage I think but here goes:

There’s lots of research that shows that being bilingual doesn’t cause language problems. I can send you some papers if you like.


  • Tell me where I’m wrong with this.

#7 Share your experience

You’ll need to fill in your own details here but these quotes give you some ideas:

  • Both my husband and I were raised bilingual/bilingually and I see it as an advantage
  • That’s how I was brought up & it’s wonderful to have more than one language.
  • I was brought up bilingual/bilingually and now speak 2 languages fluently. Was that wrong?
  • I was brought up bilingual/bilingually and now speak 2 languages fluently and it’s not wrong.

 #8 Be curious

I recently read a great book called Difficult Conversations: How to Talk About What Matters Most from the Harvard Negotiation Project. Here are some ideas from the book. They advise approaching with curiosity and thinking about: How might they see the world such that their view makes sense?

You can say something like: The story I’m telling in my head about what is going on is that you are being inconsiderate [or whatever it is you think they are being]. At some level I know that’s unfair to you and I need you to help me put things in better perspective. I need you to help me understand where you are coming from on this.

Other suggestions are:

I don’t know whether you intended this but I felt extremely uncomfortable when you asked me if I knew I was harming my child by raising him with two languages.

 # 9 Ask for more concrete information

You can say:

  • Oh really? What leads you to say that?
  • Can you give me an example?
  • What would that look like?
  • How would that work?
  • How would we test that hypothesis?
  • Can you say a little more about how you see things?
  • What information might you have that I don’t?
  • How do you see it differently?

 # 10 Share your perspective:

Using this approach, you keep the focus on your perspective which helps diffuse conflict while still remaining true to the validity of your perspective. You can say things like:

  • For me, what this is really about is…
  • What I’m feeling is….
  • What is important to me is
  • Tell me more

 #11 Hit them with the facts

If you’ve done your homework and feel confident, you can tell them that bilingualism does not cause any speech and language problems; that more people in the world are bilingual than monolingual; that you are not bilingual by choice so dropping a language is not an option and not recommended by any of the professional speech and language organisations etc.

 # 12 Look for another doctor

If after all this, you conclude that you just can’t work with this person, and of course, if you have the option, you can always ask to see someone else in the practice or see if you can get a recommendation from a friend for a bilingual friendly HCP.

We really hope you find these tips helpful so be sure and leave a comment. If you liked this post please pass it on to your friends and I’d be delighted if you signed up to Talk Nua for more speech, language, and communication tips.

Let’s get talking!

Mary-Pat & Brian

For further inspiration have a look at:


Difficult Conversations: how to talk about what matters most by Douglas Stone, Bruce Patton, and Sheila Heen.


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