Can multilingual kids develop speech delays? Know when to approach an expert

Published on: 22 June 2022, 11:28 am IST

Learn about the causes of speech delay in children here and how you can assist them in overcoming this condition.

causes of speech delay
Every child develops at his/her own pace. Image Courtesy: Shutterstock
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We’re always concerned about our children’s growth as parents and caregivers. Our children’s first few years are devoted to charting milestones and praising their achievements. It’s natural to feel concerned when your child fails to meet the key milestones. Parents of bilingual or multilingual kids often wonder if exposure to more than one language is the cause of speech delays in their kids.

Here is everything you need to know about speech delays in multilingual kids and when to approach a doctor.

What is multilingualism or bilingualism?

The ability to use or comprehend two languages is referred to as bilingualism. A person is multilingual if they can speak or understand more than two languages. Learning two languages may appear to be a difficult task for toddlers, yet it is believed that they may learn two languages as naturally as they can learn one. Children normally have a first language that is their mother tongue, as well as a second language that they learn at school or from community input.

causes of speech delay
Talk to your child often. Image courtesy: Shutterstock

What is a speech delay?

When a child’s language or speech does not progress at the predicted rate for their age, it is called a speech delay.

A normal child of 12 to 18 months of age should be able to say 2-3 words and have a vocabulary of 4-6 words. By the time they are 2 years old, they should have a vocabulary of up to 50 words and be able to say 2–3-word phrases. It is important to remember that each kid is different and may not always follow these milestones. However, if there is a delay, do not ignore it and get your child tested by a specialist.

Does multilingualism or bilingualism cause speech delays?

The short answer is no. Speaking more than one language is not the cause of speech delays in children.

While a bilingual child’s vocabulary in each language is likely to be smaller than normal, their total vocabulary (of both languages) will be comparable to that of a monolingual youngster. Bilingual children may pronounce their first words a few months later than monolingual children, but they are still within the standard age range (between 8 to 15 months).

When multilingual toddlers begin to construct brief sentences, they develop grammar in the same ways that children learning a single language do. Language delay is not caused by multilingualism. If a multi-lingual child is missing important language milestones, he/she may have a language issue and should be evaluated by a speech-language pathologist.

What are the other causes of speech delay?

Speech delay can be caused by a variety of factors that are congenital, or present at birth. Hearing loss, mental retardation, morphological abnormalities, cognitive deficiencies, genetic variances, neurologic disability, and physiologic abnormalities are only a few of the possibilities.

Children may undergo an early period of silence in otherwise normal development, and even more specifically in multilingual development. When each language is considered separately, we see a decreased vocabulary in later days. Some people think of this as a lag, but when both languages are regarded together, they are equal to greater vocabulary, which we call conceptual vocabulary.

How can parents assist bilingual or multilingual children?

1. Children learn languages through hearing. Mealtimes, bath times, getting dressed, and playtimes are all excellent occasions to talk about, teach, and learn words in either language.

causes of speech delay
Indulge in games and activities with your child. Image courtesy: Shutterstock

2. Don’t be concerned if your child uses both languages. This is a common occurrence when learning a new language. Allow your child to hear, speak, play, and engage in your native tongue on a regular basis.

3. If you suspect your kid is experiencing a language delay, seek guidance from a speech-language pathologist on the best techniques to assist your child in acquiring more than one language.

4. Before they can use new words, children must hear them hundreds of times. A parent can use a simple sentence to teach their child the word they want them to learn while also demonstrating to them what it is.

5. Every child is different and learns language at their own pace. The language that most bilingual children speak and how well they use it, will fluctuate. Encourage the youngster to continue talking in the language in which he or she is most interested and comfortable.

Conclusion

Multilingualism or bilingualism does not cause speech delays in children. However, there are other reasons for speech delay. If parents detect these delays, a speech therapist should be consulted.

Dr Meghana Kashyap Dr Meghana Kashyap

Dr Meghana Kashyap, Consultant - Child and Rehabilitation Psychologist, Motherhood Hospitals, Indiranagar, Bengaluru