I am the happy mother of a gorgeous 2.5 years old boy, Arthur, who is raised bilingually. I am French and dad is English, and we live in the UK. We are following a one person one language strategy and I also speak in French to my husband - who answers in English. Arthur understands both English and French to a very good level, and even picks up on what mum and dad have been talking about, like for example he goes and gets his rubbish collection truck if I mention the need to empty our kitchen bins.
I am increasingly anxious about his speech development as he still does not come out with any word that we could say at 100% means this or that. We do hear about 10 possible words, but they are very few and subject to personal interpretation. We saw a speech therapist who said she was not very concerned about his language (yet) as he is still pretty young, but she nevertheless referred us for a more detailed check in the coming months.
I would like to know whether people in this forum have experienced anything similar in terms of speech delay. My research on the subject of bilingualism and speech delay seems to go nowhere as there is both a volume of reading stating bilingualism does delay speech in some children, while others say it does not! Also, if you have experienced something similar, have you got any tips to help?
Post by Annamari (MommyPlaysEnglish) on Aug 19, 2014 20:58:09 GMT 9
Though not my own child, we had a little "student" at the English-Hungarian private daycare where I work. He is a boy, and was a late talker (boys tend to start speaking later). He didn't say a word(!) until the age of 3. Then in two weeks or so he caught up with the others and started to speak in complex sentences. I don't believe in bilingualism causing speech delay. There are monolingual kids who start to talk later, and there are bilingual kids who start to speak early. Every child is different. If the child is okay overall (you can see from reactions that he understands language and can communicate with pointing or gestures for example) then don't worry, just be patient and use techniques that show him that you expect him to talk (but don't press him). For example, ask questions and then stay silent looking at him and show him you are waiting for an answer from him.
"Language is the only thing that's still worth knowing badly." (Kato Lomb)
Hi Corinne! I agree with Annamari. Also, my own daughter (now four) started speaking at about two and a half, so I wouldn't worry, especially if, as Annamari said, his overall development and behaviour is normal.
My nephew was the same. He has apraxia of the speech. In simple terms his brain couldn't remember how to use his face muscles properly to make sounds.
When he was about 2.5 or 3 he'd say everything in monosyllables, if a very limited variety. Like "yellow bus" would be "ya ba". His comprehension was really good though. He also stopped learning new sounds without the help of a speech therapist. He has to do speech therapy and physical therapy several times a week but at 7 only his intonation is slightly off.
Mind you, that's him. It's also perfectly normal to be on the slow side. Some kids finally catch up without any intervention and very few end up with some sort of speech disorder.
Thank you all for your views. It is reassuring to read your posts. I am following closely on his other development skills, and apart from being a bit shy and not very keen on physical challenges (my fault here as I did not take him to playgrounds so much...) he is bang on where he should be.
I feel more and more pressurised by people around me to stop talking to him in French and build up his English first!!! Arrgggghh
I will keep you posted with our progress. For now it is very much babbling and now and again I can hear some words (whether or not they are said remains to be seen!).
Corinne, your concern is natural, particularly for parents of a first child who wonder when (or even if!) the child will start to speak. Unfortunately, this concern is compounded when two (or more) languages are involved and others begin to question the wisdom of this decision, even contending that the bilingualism itself is a source of the difficulty.
First of all, it's understandable that this issue now weighs heavily on your mind, but I predict that, from a broader perspective, it will become a minor footnote in Arthur's long-term language development. In other words, I agree with the supportive comments that have already been made, which stress the developmental differences in every child, and I expect (if no other factors are found and overall development seems fine) that he will surely speak--and speak well in both languages--when he's ready to do so.
Realistically, there must be very, very few cases where a child, who develops normally in all other ways, does not eventually develop normal language ability. In fact, the only scenario that comes to mind are those exceedingly rare instances when a child is so neglected that he receives minimal language exposure of any kind during the early years of childhood.
Corinne, it sounds to me like you're doing everything right, so just keep at it, with patience and faith. I may have mentioned this post before, but I think the message applies to your situation, and to other parents who wonder: Will my child ever start to speak?
Finally, let me add a few relevant passages from Colin Baker's book A Parents' and Teachers' Guide to Bilingualism. Dr. Baker is as knowledgeable about bilingualism as anyone in the field, and he urges caution when attributing bilingualism to concerns involving language development...
"Such problems are too quickly attributed to bilingualism, partly because bilinguals are 'different'. Research tells a very different story. Bilingualism will coexist with, but will not be the primary cause of such problems."
"A particular problem that illustrates the wrongly attributed link between bilingualism and developmental problems is 'language delay'. Language delay occurs when a child is very late in beginning to talk, or lags well behind peers in language development. Estimates of young children experiencing language delay vary from 1 in 20 to 1 in 5 of the child population. Such varying estimates partly reflect that some delays are brief and hardly noticeable. Others are more severe. Language delay has a variety of causes (e.g. partial hearing, deafness, autism, visual impairment, severe subnormality, cerebral palsy, physical differences [e.g. cleft palate], psychological disturbance, emotional difficulties, a high degree of social or emotional deprivation). However, in approximately two-thirds of all cases, the precise reason for language delay is not known. Children who are medically normal, with no hearing loss, of normal IQ and memory, are not socially deprived or emotionally disturbed, can be delayed in starting to speak, slow in development or have problems in expressing themselves well. Such cases need specialist professional help. Speech and language therapists, in particular, but clinical psychologists and educational psychologists may also give such advice and treatment."
"Parents of bilingual children with such problems should not believe that bilingualism is the cause. Sometimes well-meaning professionals make this diagnosis. Having a bilingual background is irrationally believed to produce language delayed children. The evidence does not support this belief."
Adam Beck is the founder of Bilingual Monkeys and The Bilingual Zoo, and the author of the popular book Maximize Your Child's Bilingual Ability amzn.to/22XKuCt and the humorous novel How I Lost My Ear amzn.to/2EsjVRS, both available worldwide. Please support The Bilingual Zoo through Adam's Patreon page www.patreon.com/bilingualmonkeys.
First thing we checked was her hearing (which was 100 percent).
When she was almost four and still barely talking we started speech therapy, where it turned out that our daughter, though hearing well, could not always make sense of the words she heard.
We just kept going with multilingualism, and fortunately our speech therapist was supportive of that. Occupational therapy was added and our daughter started Kindergarten.
By the time she was six and a half and started school she was fluent in her two main languages with just the speech melody she uses being slightly off.
A couple of years later we finally had an official diagnosis: Asperger Syndrome.
A speech delay can have many reasons, but as long as the child can hear and there are no other problems things will usually work out fine. And any child that can learn one language can equally well learn two, so stick to the bilingualism. We did and never regretted it.
Hi Corinne! My daughter is 2.5yrs and is not talking much although her comprehension seems excellent...but I really feel she is just going to start one day and we won't be able to stop her! I am told that I also was a late talker (only started at 3yrs) so I like to think she is just like me! We are a bilingual French/English family so she is exposed to 2 languages and has an older sister who talks a lot! I think you should just keep doing what you're doing! It is difficult when people around you doubt you (especially when you have a tiny doubt yourself) but trust your instinct as it sounds like Arthur is just busy taking it all in and he will start when he's ready! Good luck!
Don't give up French! Here is a success story from us.
We had speech delay with my older daughter. We are raising her bilingually in English (dad) and Russian (me) living in Australia. When she was nearly 2 and only saying about 5 words I started to worry. I was taking her to a variety of speech therapists who gave me recommendations of what to do (like speaking clearly, holding objects next to your face and naming them - same word about 5-10 times, getting her to say what she wants, not just point, like "do you want some juice or milk?" and she had to say one of the words). First 2 months of trying that - little result, she learnt to say 5 more words and started to join them into phrases (like "more juice"), but total vocabulary was very poor (about 10 words) and not a single Russian word .
So we went to check hearing which was...borderline because of her previous ear infections! She had a surgery to put grommets into her ears to drain the liquid that was still there from infections.
Then we went to Russia to visit family where we saw another speech therapist. Her approach was slightly different than Australian speech pathologists. She recommended singing nursery rhymes and leaving out the last word and get your child to say it, with Russian words - clapping or jumping through each syllable (because many words are long).
When we returned to Australia she was 2.5 and her vocabulary didn't increase much. So we went to see another speech pathologist (we moved to Melbourne and it had to be a different one again - to our luck). This time our speech pathologist was a young Malaysian woman who grew up as a bilingual herself and she was very helpful in spite that she spoke English with little accent. In about 4 weeks of therapy (she went to see her for 45 min once a week) my daughter started to speak - it was like a snowball! First things she learnt to say were names of colours in English. I always spoke Russian to my daughter, but when we did speech pathology exercises I switched to English (daddy was to busy working). Once English words started coming out and she was repeating new words we ended speech pathology and I turned back to Russian only. By the age of 3 she was speaking in full sentences in Russian, but her English was a bit behind in vocabulary (her dad doesn't have much time to spend with her, so it is mostly me). Now she's 5 and in Kindergarten, speaks both Russian and English fluently. Her English vocabulary is still a bit behind her peers, but her Russian is better than a lot of other Russian-English bilingual kids I know! She loves being bilingual and is very proud of it.
So, we saw 5 different speech pathologists and NONE of them told us that bilingualism was a problem or a cause of speech delay.
Speech delay also has nothing to do with gender! I also have a 2 year old (26 months now) son who is bilingual and speaks both Russian and English. He started to speak early, 50 words when he was 16 months old and sentences by 18 months. Now he is 2 and has a vocabulary of a 3 year old, knows more than 30 songs and rhymes by heart (some in Russian and some in English). He speaks Russian (minority language) to his sister and switches to English with daddy or in childcare. And he is very active physically too. I guess I was so worried that he could have speech delay that I started speech therapy with him from when he was a newborn.
My recommendations for you:
1 - don't give up minority language 2 - start speech pathology as early as possible 3 - find a good pathologist who understands bilingualism 4 - talk to your child about what HE/SHE is interested in at the moment
Mayken: It's our last night in Canada. We've said goodbye to our English-speaking and bilingual English/French friends but we have lots of memories and souvenirs. Let's see how I can keep up the momentum back home.
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Adam Beck: Sounds like a wonderful trip, Mayken! Safe travels home!
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Wojtek: My daughter said today that on 20$ bill there is Adam
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Wojtek: Is that Andrew Jackson?
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Adam Beck: Wojtek, see you both in Poland very soon!
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