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!