Language delay and temporary hearing loss

As S approaches his second birthday his language development has been progressing more slowly than the norm.  Around 18 months he began to use a lot of gestures; his spoken language emerged slowly at around 20 months, his first word being agua, followed shortly by mama.  How exciting!  I was sure an explosion in his language skills was just around the corner as many people had suggested.  However only a week or so after these ‘first words’ he just stopped using them!  His current vocabulary at 22 months is still mainly based around noises, rather than words.   As well as animal noises, it has slowly built to include: uh oh, cucu, alli, nnnnnn (no), an eurrrgh sound for something dirty, and an amazing woooow sound for something exciting.  During this time we have seen a noticeable improvement in his level of comprehension, combined with the quick acquisition of new signs and gestures.

Hearing loss is one of the main causes of language delay in toddlers; and glue ear, which leads to temporary hearing loss, is particularly common in Bristol.  Glue ear is a condition where fluid builds up in the ear and muffles the sound you can hear.  It is said to be like listening to the world underwater.  Glue ear can cause speech and language problems in small children as they are unable to identify speech sounds correctly.  Although we have always felt S responds well to noises, turns when someone calls his name and has a good understanding (of Spanish at least), we thought it was best to get any hearing problems ruled out.

under water

A diagnosis of temporary hearing loss

We now know that S has suffered over a period of time from some degree of hearing loss due to congestion in the ears, also known as glue ear.  We can’t be sure how long his hearing was affected, but when we visited the Children’s Hearing Centre in May they observed slight hearing loss at low volumes at both high and low frequencies. This may have been the case since the winter, when the condition is most prevalent. Luckily, at his appointment this morning, the congestion had cleared and he was hearing well across the spectrum. Hopefully he will have no further hearing problems, although the audiologists have told us to watch out as it is a condition that comes and goes.

How to help language development following hearing loss.

Knowing that S has experienced some level of hearing loss, albeit slight and temporary, has made us even more aware of the need to provide him opportunities for language and speech development.  We were, however, unsure about how to go about this. What should we be doing or avoiding? Would speech therapy help him or will he just catch up given time?

Unfortunately, because he is communicating using gestures and sounds, he is not eligible until his second birthday to be added to the waiting list for for NHS speech and language therapy.  In the meantime we decided to explore options for private assessment and therapy sessions, including meeting a Spanish-speaking speech therapist.  In the end we have decided to watch and wait for the time being.  We are scheduled to have a visit from the health visitor in September for S’s two year health and development check.  If he is not meeting language milestones at this point they will refer us to NHS speech and language therapy.

In the meantime we have been in touch with an organisation called I CAN, The Children’s Communication Charity, who sent us some helpful tips and resources.  They were really encouraging about using Spanish at home, ‘It’s great to hear that you are raising your son to be bilingual. This will be a very good skill for him to acquire and you should continue to speak both languages regardless.’  They also send a link to this helpful factsheet on bilingualism and language development.

It would be interesting to hear about any other bilingual families who have had a slow start to language acquisition due to temporary hearing loss.  How long did it take your toddler to catch up? Did you access speech and language therapy?  What kind of exercises do they suggest?  I would love to hear your about your experiences.

The signs and sounds of todderhood

S (nearly 22 months) is becoming quite a proficient communicator, now regularly using over 70 signs, along with sounds (like animals, train etc) and a few words.  The introduction of signs has really expanded the range of things he can tell us about and has significantly reduced his frustration.

As well as using individual signs he now combines words, signs and sounds together in mini sentences such as:

  • ‘drink’ uh oh (The cup fell on the floor)
  • ‘where’ ‘daddy’ ‘bath’ (Is Daddy in the bathroom?)
  • allí (pointing at sofa) ‘milk’ (Sit down and breastfeed me!)
  • ‘nursery’ ‘bike’ (We’re going to nursery by bike today)

cat

S loves to point out the things he notices around him (like animals) and comment on what’s happening (like it’s raining) by doing signs.  He can make requests for food (especially biscuits) or ask to go to the park, and he often lets us know he’s paying attention to our conversations by signing the words he recognises as he listens along.  This has made me more aware of words and their component parts. The other day we were talking about someone getting married and S starts to do the sign for house.  At first I was confused…was he asking to go home? Then I realised he had heard se casa (he’s getting married) not ‘casa’ as in home! Another time I asked him to move into the shade (sombra) and he started doing the sign for hat (sombrero). I’d never really thought of hat and shade being similar, but in Spanish they obviously are!

Another interesting development is how S babbles with his hands and makes up new signs for words he doesn’t know.  This keeps us on our toes as he tries to teach us these new signs and we attempt to work out what they mean.  Some of the signs are intuitive and turn out to be similar to BSL, such as the sign for hot spicy food, others seem entirely random (eg for avocado he puts one pointed finger up from the top of his head – who knows what that’s all about!).

I’d love to hear about how others are getting along with signing or bilingual language development. Please leave your comments below!

Toddler signing anyone?

P1060968I heard about baby signing when S was a few months old.  A friend of mine had a lovely illustrated book called ‘My First Signs’, another was going to a ‘sing and sign’ baby class.

For those of you that aren’t familiar with the concept, the idea is that babies develop the motor skills to communicate earlier than the skills to start speaking.  By introducing specific gestures alongside speech around 7 months, you can help your baby to express themselves and therefore reduce frustration and crying until their speech catches up.

I liked the idea of being able to communicate with with S and be in tune with his wishes before he could articulate them… but at the time it seemed another thing to do, another thing to think about and I thought I probably wouldn’t do the signing consistently enough for S to really pick it up.  I figured Spanish and English would do for now!

Fast forward another year… and we have decided to introduce a few signs to S at 18 months.  He is already very keen on using his hands and body to communicate.  I noticed he was consistently using the same gestures for a few words like crocodile and hot, so we thought we’d give some baby sign language a go.

S loves the signs!  I borrowed my friend’s book and he picked up several signs really quickly – not surprisingly for my little milk monster, his favourite signs are milk and more!  He has also got the hang of a few animals signs like bird, elephant and caterpillar. We are using signs based on British Sign Language with Spanish spoken words…. so an interesting linguistic mix!

I think starting at this age, when he already had a good understanding of the spoken words and good motor control, has meant he’s been able to start using the signs straight away.  It seems like a really useful tool for late talking children.

In fact, I have been enjoying learning the signs myself!  I was surprised at how intuitive and easy to remember they are.  It has also sparked my interested in sign languages in general.  I remember learning to fingerspell when I was about 10 years old.  As a group of school friends, we thought it was so clever of us to learn sign language so we could chat when we were supposed to be being quiet!  It was only quite a few years later that I realised that I had only learnt the alphabet and not actual sign language. Still, it is quite a useful thing to know  - not to use with babies perhaps, but some sign language words are closely linked to the fingerspelling (like ham which is H and M).

Have you used baby signing with a bilingual child?  It would be lovely to hear your stories.  Please do leave some comments below.

Confused about language development in bilingual children? I was!

first wordsIt’s been a while since I last posted.  This blog is about the rewards and challenges of bringing our son up bilingual and aims to track the emergence and development of his languages.  Except there hasn’t been much emergence, at least in terms of speaking, so far! S is now 18 months… and still no first words.  He does now understand quite a bit, including simple instructions like lavamos los dientes (let’s brush your teeth), sientate (sit down), and the names of some body parts, animals, clothes, food and toys.  He is generally very vocal, noisy and communicative using facial expressions, sounds and gestures.  He also makes a few animals sounds.  However at the same time, despite looking out very hard for it, we have been unable to recognise anything vaguely like a word, no dada, mama or bubye.  

Everyone keeps saying, ‘boys take longer to talk’, ‘he was an early walker so he’ll be a late talker’, ‘oh don’t worry, bilingual children always speak later’,  ‘bilingual babies’ language development is slower’ or ‘bilingual speech can be delayed by a few months’ (one speech therapist that I met informally told me language could be delayed by 6 months!).  I was finding this reassuring… until I started to notice other toddlers, both bilingual and boys, had already begun talking.

If you google ‘bilingual children language delay’, it easy to find a lot of forums and sources that cling to these assumptions.  However, with a more discerning look, it is clear that current research suggests that monolingual and bilingual children meet major language developmental milestones at similar times.  ‘While a bilingual child’s vocabulary in each individual language may be smaller than average, his total vocabulary (from both languages) will be at least the same size as a monolingual child. Bilingual children may say their first words slightly later than monolingual children, but still within the normal age range (between 8-15 months)’.   Here are a couple of links to some interesting articles at multilingualliving.com and hanen.org on this topic.

I know all children have their own time-scale for development, but when you keep reading that ‘by the time they’re one and a half, toddlers are usually using at least 10 simple words like daddy, cup and dog though these aren’t always clear.’ (NHS Information Service for Parents) and your little one hasn’t even said ‘mama’, you do start to wonder.  I am speaking to him enough? Is there something else I should be doing? Is there some problem?

I spoke to the health visitor, making a conscious decision not to mention our household’s bilingualism as I didn’t want my concerns to be dismissed, to see if she had any recommendations.  She asked me about S’s hearing, which it hadn’t occurred to me could be a problem – he seems to respond well to noises, music and turns when spoken to. Apparently Bristol is the glue ear capital of the UK (the audiologist didn’t seem to know why!)  This is a condition where fluid get trapped in the ear, blocking sound and it can be the cause of temporary language delay in small children.  S has now had a hearing test, but the results were inconclusive so we are due to go back again in a couple of months.

In the meantime…. perhaps he’ll start to talk!

Merienda de Reyes – a tea party for kings

After a very English Christmas spent among mince pies, carols, crackers and the like, it was time for a bit of Mexican tradition. Today we celebrated ‘Dia de Los Reyes’ with a traditional tea party for a few friends and their children.

In preparation, yesterday S helped me make our very own Rosca de Reyes, a ring-shaped sweet bread/cake with dried fruit and marzipan.  Although the dough didn’t rise much and the cake was a lot more solid that in should have been.. it was still pretty tasty.

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We planned to serve the cake with Ibarra Mexican hot chocolate.. unfortunately when we got the packet out it has expired… exactly on S’s birth date… spooky!  Instead we made Green & Blacks hot chocolate adding a cinnamon stick and nutmeg and of course, mixing it up with our wooden molinillo.

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 Traditional roscas have a small plastic figurine of baby Jesus hidden in the cake.  However L was unable to find a baby trinket returning instead with a plastic snake, crocodile and frog!  As my rosca dough didn’t rise much, the resulting cake was a lot smaller than he imagined, and there was, unfortunately, no room for his animals.  Instead, remembering the sixpence tradition, I boiled up a 5p piece and added it to the cake.

Tradition dictates that the person who finds the baby Jesus has to host a party on 2nd February for Dia de La Candelaria.  We didn’t think we could put upon our guests to complete this part of the tradition, however.  Although we still wanted to do something to symbolise the finding of the figure (or 5p piece in our case).  I had read that in France there is a similar tradition where the person who finds the trinket in the Galette de Rois is crowned ‘King for the Day’.  I decided to adapt this French tradition for our Mexican rosca with a sixpense… very multicultural and quickly fashioned a crown to decorate our rosca. Unfortunately the piece with the 5p wasn’t found by our guests, but by me later on that evening!  Never mind, it is a lovely crown –  I shall keep it for the Dia de Los Reyes event next week with La Casita, the group for Spanish speaking families in Bristol.

In future years I hope to build on my baking skills and hone our rosca recipe. It took the recipe from spanglishbaby.com but adapted it to UK ingredients (such as using raisins instead of candied pineapple).  We may also incorporate other Dia de Reyes traditions that mirror ours such as leaving out hay for the camels and hoping for presents from the three kings.

Accents in the minority language

S has just started making the rolled r sound as part of his babbling (still no first words…). He goes RRR RRR RRR over and over and seems quite pleased with himself.  I myself am quite excited about this.  I hope this means his accent will sounds more or less like a native Spanish speaker.

I have met a few children and young people in the last 6 months who, despite being brought up bilingual, still have an English accent when they speak their minority language. I just assumed, if they had only ever heard Spanish or French, from their mum (a native speaker), they they would also speak with the same accent!

I really hope S doesn’t have an English accent when he speaks Spanish! People can usually not tell where I am from when I speak Spanish… so I think – if I can pick up a good accent as an adult, surely he should be able to if he is learning the language from birth?

I wonder if the English accent is because they were in a household where the family language was English? Is there a difference in the acquisition of accents between OPOL and ML@H households? Does anyone have any insights or experience in this area?

Early communication at 15 months

S is now 15 months old and starting to communicate more and more with gestures and noises.  Although he hasn’t said any words yet he is able to communicate through pointing, clapping, waving, dancing and shaking his head.  He loves to dance and asks for music by pointing at my phone or the CD player and then doing a little dance.  He makes an eating noise when he sees food or a picture of food, or when he wants a snack.  He’s also started trying to snort like a pig and he makes a strange evil-like baa for a sheep.

He now understands simple orders when used with gestures like – ven aquí (come here), pásamelo (give it to me), siéntate (sit down) etc.  So far these are the words we know he understands: agua, casco, zapatos, mascara, lampara, mama, papa, música, bailar, bye, adiós, saludar.  He is also starting to identify the animals on his wall paper and point to the lion and monkey (león and chango).

Every day I seem to feel we are communicating better – it’s quite exciting. Perhaps his first words are just around the corner. So far it’s mainly Spanish words that I know he understands although I suspect there are some English words too… we are just not aware of them yet!

donde esta el leon