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Top 10 Myths about Early Speech and Language Development

Author: Karen KEI
Speech and Language Therapist

1. Learning more than one language causes language delay

False. Bilingualism itself does not cause language delay. Bilingual children may say their first words slightly later than monolingual children, but it is still within the normal age range. Once bilingual children start to say short sentences, they develop grammar along the same patterns and timelines as monolingual children.

2. Boys talk later than girls

True. It is true that boys might say their first words and sentences later than girls. However, there is a normal range within which children acquire certain language milestones; and the differences can be only a matter of a few months. There are also other factors that might contribute to language delay such as hearing loss, a family history of language disorder, whether the child has any developmental disorder such as Autism and Down’s Syndrome, a stimulating and language-rich environment. Nevertheless, if you find your child really lagging behind in his/her speech and language development, don’t assume that it is because of his gender. It is important that you speak to your paediatrician or a speech and language therapist.

3. You should never ‘baby talk’ with your child

False. ‘Baby talk’ refers to a type of speech that adults speak to a child or an infant. It is also called ‘caretaker speech’ or ‘infant-directed speech’. It is characterised by using a special tone of voice or choice of words which often highlight and emphasise exaggerated expression and feelings. It is found that babies and young infants do prefer ‘baby talk’ as it helps them to pay closer attention to speech, voice, as well as the caregivers. ‘Baby talk’ makes it easier for babies and young infants to learn how language works and what words are more important as well as carry a stronger meaning in a conversation.

4. Use educational toys or media will definitely help improve young children’s early language development

False. A lot of apps describe themselves as ‘educational’ and ‘interactive’, however it might still be considered as passive screen time as it focuses on its content and requires little joint attention and interaction. Parents should choose age-appropriate media or channels that are designed for your child’s age and stage. Screen media content should reflect children’s everyday lives and daily routines, which makes it easier for children to understand and make sense of what they are watching. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), children aged 2 to 5 should not have more than 1 hour of screen time per day. For those under 2 years of age, it is best to avoid letting them in contact with any electronic screen products. Nevertheless, if you have to introduce a screen to your child, make sure you watch it together and do some follow-up activities so that the screen becomes meaningful in everyday life.

5. Use pacifier will cause speech and language problems

True/False. There is a controversy on whether pacifiers cause speech and language problems in young children. From what we understand, prolonged pacifier use has been linked to dental problems and increased ear infection, both of which can have a negative impact on speech and language learning. However, a couple of recent studies examining the speech (pronunciation) of children with prolonged pacifier use found different results. While it might still be inconclusive, most professionals would agree that a child’s opportunities for babbling, imitating sounds, and engaging in conversations will be reduced if he or she has a pacifier in the mouth most of the time.

6. Boys usually have language delay

True. There are definitely more boys than girls with a variety of language difficulties. The incidence of language impairment is higher among boys than among girls, a ratio anywhere from 2 to 3. The incidence of Autism in boys is also higher, four times more common in boys than girls.

7. Late talker will always ‘catch up’ eventually

False. Research indicates that approximately 40-50% of children who are late talkers (who have typical skills in other areas) without any intervention do not catch up on their own. Late talkers who use few or no gestures seem to be at greater risk for a language delay that does not resolve itself. Even when late talkers appear to catch up to other children their age, they are still at greater risk for difficulties with reading and literacy.

8. Children learn language naturally

False. Language development in children follows an expected pattern. Learning language is partly innate and partly stimulated by the child’s environment. Children would benefit from raising in a language-rich and stimulating environment so that they can learn and observe how others interact and communicate.

9. Second- and third-born children are late to talk because their older siblings often do it for them.

False. Birth order does not determine speech and language acquisition in children. Studies have found that children, regardless of their birth order, should follow a similar language development. It might be true that older siblings, especially with a close age gap, might interrupt or talk over their younger siblings, but it does not seem to have a negative impact on their language development.

10. Children don’t talk because they are lazy

False. It is very unlikely that young children do not interact, communicate or talk because they feel lazy. Some children may be shyer or introverted than the others, especially when in a new environment or unfamiliar people; however, it should not stop them from talking to their parents or caregivers.

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Top 10 Myths about Early Speech and Language Development