Well-meaning parents and friends love to give advice about your child and how to support their speech and language development, but how do you know what’s true and what’s simply an old wives’ tale? Here we break down a few of the common things parents are told about speech and language development and give you the truth.
- Talking in simplified ‘telegrammatic’ speech helps babies and toddlers learn to talk.
Speaking telegrammatically means you use main content words, and telegrammatic speech usually contains no grammar, or grammatical errors (e.g. ‘he big’ instead of “he is big”, or ‘I jump’ instead of “I am jumping”). Some people think that this kind of talk will help a child’s language skills develop, because it gives them only the most important words to focus on and is very simple. Actually, the opposite is more likely to be true. Telegrammatic speech may actually limit a child’s language development as they are given a poor language model to learn from. They need exposure to good grammar in order to learn to use it! Also, the words, and parts of words, we use when speaking grammatically often provide cues to help your child figure out what you are saying (e.g. when your child hears a word ending in “-ing” they know you are using an ‘action’ word).
Simplifying the way you talk by using shorter, simple sentences can be very beneficial for your child’s language development, but even the short sentences you use should always be grammatically correct.
- If you use baby-talk you are stunting your child’s development
Using baby-talk (as long as it is grammatically correct!) can actually help your baby’s speech and language development. Baby-talk (also called ‘motherese’, ‘parentese’, ‘child-directed speech’, and ‘infant-directed speech) has been shown to be more interesting to babies than speaking ‘normally’. This means your baby will pay better attention and ‘tune-in’ better to what you are saying. There are other possible benefits too – including improved bonding with your baby, and faster speech and language acquisition. Just be aware that it’s only been shown to be useful for babies, not toddlers or older children!
- Your child’s dummy will give them a speech and/or language delay
Use of a dummy has been linked to dental problems and even an increase in ear infections. When it comes to speech and language development though, the jury is still out. The results of studies contradict each other. Some say use of a dummy may cause speech delays, others say it doesn’t make a difference. However, common sense says that if your child constantly has a dummy in their mouth, that this will reduce their opportunity to practice babbling (speech-like noises that babies make), and talking. This practice is really important, so it could be a good idea to limit dummy use when possible. At Chatterbugs we have seen a number of children who have had changes in their mouth structure as a result of dummy use or thumb sucking and this has caused speech problems but it’s not a simple causal relationship.
- It’s normal for boys to talk later than girls
In general, boys do tend to start using words and sentences a little later than girls, but this difference is only small. Boys may be a 1-2 months behind girls on average for saying their first words, but it certainly isn’t normal for a boy to be way behind in his language development. If you have a son and are concerned at all that his language skills are delayed, see a speech pathologist. Getting in early means better outcomes, so the earlier you address the problem the better.
- Boys commonly have language delays, it’s normal
It is true that boys are much more likely to have language difficulties than girls (at least twice as likely!) but this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t worry about it. Just because a problem is common, doesn’t mean it’s not a problem! Language skills are essential for social and educational success. Getting support earlier rather than later is always a good idea regardless of gender.
- It’s common for twins to have delayed language
Twins are at greater risk for language delay, especially twin boys. Not all twins will experience delayed language development, but it is more common in twins than singleton birth children. Again just because it’s common doesn’t mean it’s not a problem – seek help early.
- Younger siblings are later to talk because their older sibling/s talk for them
Many parents notice their elder children interrupting or speaking for their younger siblings, but research actually shows that this is unlikely to impact on the child’s speech and language development. It is possible that there is slightly slower early development during the first-words stage, but this difference does not last. In fact, some research even suggests that later-born children are likely to have stronger skills in some areas of language than their older siblings! Regardless of birth order if your child’s having difficulty communicating they need professional assistance from a qualified speech pathologist.
- Educational TV programs, DVDs and cards will improve your child’s language development
There is a real danger in using DVDs and flashcards over natural interaction for your child to learn. DVDs can result in a smaller vocabulary, as you are limiting your child’s exposure to a variety of words and subjects. While flashcards may help your child learn new words, they learn the word in response to a picture, and this doesn’t always result in them having a good understanding of the full meaning of the word, or how to use it outside of that set activity. Educational resources aren’t necessarily a bad thing, but babies and children learn best through interaction and play with other people. No expensive resource with fancy marketing can do as good a job as you sitting, playing and talking with your child, so it’s probably not worth the money.
- Learning two languages at the same time causes language delays
Learning two languages doesn’t cause a language delay. A child who is learning two languages may be behind someone who speaks only one language in only that language (e.g. a child who speaks both English and Spanish may have less English words than English-only speaking children) but when both languages are taken into account, they do not have a delay (the bilingual child will have as many words across the two languages as monolingual children have in one). Children who are learning two languages may mix the languages while talking, but this is normal and does not indicate a problem. The differences that may be seen between the language skills of children who learn 2 languages and children who learn one will gradually disappear as the child gets older. There are also some benefits to learning more than one language. Children who are exposed to two or more languages tend to be better at talking and thinking about how language works, and may have stronger cognitive skills. If your child is having trouble learning to talk seek help even if they are learning two languages at once.
- If your child has delayed speech or language, but are otherwise developing normally, they’ll grow out of it.
It is true that some children do grow out of speech and/or language delays, but there is no way to predict who will and who will not. The research shows that more than half of the children who are late talkers will not catch up without intervention. Even children who do ‘catch up’ are at greater risk of reading difficulties and can show some high level language difficulties in later life. What research does very clearly show is that intervention leads to better outcomes – usually this means if you start early your child will need less therapy sessions, less time, and have a better chance of actually catching up. So even if well-meaning friends and relatives suggest you ‘wait and see’, it’s better to access support as soon as you are aware of a problem. I once had a mother almost in tears because she had known for almost two years that her son had speech difficulties, but friends and care workers had suggested she wait to see if it improved. When she finally accessed support, his speech skills were severely disordered and he was struggling to learn to read. She had acted under the best advice she had, but was devastated to learn that the advice she had been given was not what her child actually needed. If in doubt, check it out!
Chatterbugs provide effective evidence based interventions for speech and language difficulties. Our team of experienced professionals genuinely care about you and your child and will do everything they can to get the best possible outcome so your child can achieve they own unique potential.