Dual Languages Acquisition in Childhood Causes Speech Delay: Myth or Fact?

Most countries develop the use of multiple languages as the people themselves come from various cultures and ethnic groups. This phenomenon causes a child may be exposed to more than one language in his/her family. Regarding this dual languages phenomenon, a question arises: will dual language learning or bilingualism cause speech delay to children?

Before answering the question, we need to understand what speech delay is. Speech delay is when a child’s speech does not develop significantly at the expected pace for his/her age. It means that the speech development does not fulfill the normal language development milestones, e.g. a child 12 to 17 months of age should be able to say 2-3 words and have 4-6 words of vocabularies, and by 2 years old s/he should have a vocabulary of up to 50 words and be able to say 2-3 word phrases.

There are two types of bilingualism which are Simultaneous Bilingualism and Sequential Bilingualism. The first one refers to the acquisition of both languages from birth, while the last one refers to the development of a second language before the age of 3. Sequential bilingualism might be caused by the child entering a school or the family emigrating to another country.

According to Christina May, a bilingual speech & language pathologist as well as the founder of a pediatric service “Hearing Speech and Literacy” in Athens, Greece, the potential causes of speech delay present at birth (congenital). These may be hearing impairment, cognitive deficits, neurologic impairment, mental retardation, physiologic abnormalities, anatomical abnormalities, and genetic differences. In some cases, it may also be acquired from illness, injury, or environmental factors (maturation delay or psychosocial deprivation).

Annick de Houwer in her 1999 book entitled “Two or More Languages in Early Childhood” states that grounded research has shown that there is no evidence that learning two or more languages leads to delays or disorders in language acquisition of young children. Many children in the world who grow up with two or more languages since birth show no signs of language delays or disorder.

Thus, based on these statements we can conclude that acquiring two or more languages during childhood does not cause speech delay. The causes of speech delay are more on congenital causes or from illness, injury, or environmental causes. This means that even children who learn only one language (monolingual) may have speech delay if they are exposed to the potential causes abovementioned.

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