Earlier this month I met a woman who told me an interesting story about her baby brother. Their father works for the Foreign Service and is a native Italian speaker as is her mother. Their nanny speaks very limited English and tends to speak to the baby in Polish. Their mother likes to converse in English since they live in D.C.
As her brother approached his second birthday, they realized he wasn’t really speaking like other kids his age. His mother became concerned and after several visits to doctors who said there was nothing physically wrong, they were worried. By chance, one of her parent’s friends is a language specialist and her mother shared her concerns. Because she knew the family so well, she understood the multi-cultural environment in which the children were raised.
As a speech therapist she knew that one of the myths of child development was that if children were raised in bi-lingual households, it could cause delays in developing language learning. However, she noted that having three or four languages spoken to a child might be causing the problem. They decided to only speak English to her brother and within a few months, he began speaking more often and more clearly.
Is this Normal?
Your daughter could string together sentences by the time she was two but your son is barely talking. Your first reaction may be, “he’ll outgrow it” or “he will catch up” there is nothing to worry about.
Should you be concerned? Should you seek the advice of a specialist? There are many uncertainties surrounding speech and language development. You may have heard that it’s bad to use “baby talk” around your infant. In fact, there is extensive research that indicates that baby talk can be beneficial to speech development since the exaggerated changes in pitch and tone can help them learn the rhythm of speech and the difference between tones of voice.
Do girls really talk sooner than boys? This is in fact true. There is a lot of research, which documents that girls tend to speak earlier and use more complex language than boys do. In a study released early this year in the Journal of Neuroscience, evidence points to a protein called Foxp2 which plays a critical role in speech and language development in humans and appears in higher levels in girls than boys.
By understanding developmental norms, you will have a better idea of when the situation calls for some professional intervention.
- Birth to 1 Year: During this period, your child should be cooing and babbling which are early stages of speech development. As they approach their first birthday, babies will start to string words together although they really don’t understand the meaning.
- Year One to Year Two: There should be a growing vocabulary from your toddler. By the time they turn 2, children should have close to 50 words in their vocabulary and can combine words to make simple sentences. If your child isn’t using gestures such as pointing or waving; has trouble understanding simple spoken requests or has difficulty imitating sounds, these may be signs of a problem.
- Year Two to Year Three: Children’s speech really develops during this time. Vocabulary grows and they are now making two to three word sentences as well as beginning to understand commands and meaning. “Put it down” or Time for bed” should be understood at this point. If your child cannot produce words on their own as opposed to imitating what you’re saying or can only use sounds as opposed to word when trying to communicate their needs, you should consult your pediatrician or a speech language pathologist.
As a parent, it is easy to obsess over child’s development. Try to remember that some kids do develop later than others. If you want to help your child’s speech and language development, remember to spend a lot of time talking to them and reading to them. If you do suspect a problem, early intervention is the best medicine.
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