Fact or fiction? The top 10 assumptions about early speech and language development

May is Speech and Hearing month

Adapted from an article by Lauren Lowry, SLP from the Hanen Ctr, TorontoDo you ever wonder if boys really do talk later than girls? Or if it's confusing to speak two languages to a child? And when grandma says using a pacifier is going to cause speech problems later, should you believe her?

Below you'll find some common assumptions about young children's speech and language development, and whether research either backs them up or debunks them.

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1. You should never use "baby talk" with babies.

False

Baby talk, also known as "motherese", refers to the very recognizable speech patterns people use when speaking to babies. Baby talk has a higher-than-normal and more varied pitch, a slower rate of speaking, simpler vocabulary, lots of repetition, emphasis of important words, and exaggerated, positive facial expression. "Baby talk" makes it easier for babies to figure out how language works and which words are most important to the meaning of what's being said.This helps them learn what words mean and, in time, helps them learn to say words. Therefore, don't be afraid to use baby talk with your baby - it's helping him tune in to you and what you are saying!

2. Speaking "telegraphically" helps young children learn to talk.

False

Telegraphic speech involves using only content words with little or no grammar. Example: "Where coat?" (instead of "Where's your coat?"). Studies show that telegraphic speech may hinder children's learning of grammar and word meanings as it deprives children of the helpful cues and information that come from grammatical speech. So when you use "baby talk", try to use short, simple phrases with proper grammar.

3. Using "educational" products, such as DVDs or flashcards stimulates young children's language development.

False

While it can be tempting to purchase special products marketed as "educational" for youngchildren, these products are not necessarily effective in helping children learn how tocommunicate. Children learn language best in play and in meaningful family conversations in the midst of everyday life.

4. Using a pacifier causes speech and language problems.

Unclear

The verdict on this issue may still be out, however most professionals would agree that a child's opportunities for babbling, imitating sounds, and engaging in conversations are reduced if she or he has a pacifier in the mouth much of the time. Therefore, reducing pacifier use may be recommended by SLP's.

5. Second- and third-born children are late to talk because their older siblings do the talking for them.

False

Several studies have shown that the language development and skills of first-born and later-born children are similar, and sometimes the later-born even have superior skills in the areas of pronoun use and conversation skills. One study showed that first-born children reach the 50-word milestone earlier, but that once children had reached the 50-word milestone, there were no differences.

6. Boys talk later than girls.

True

It is true that boys generally produce their first words and sentences later than girls. However, these differences are only a matter of a few months. So if a young boy is really lagging behind in his speech and language development, don't assume that it's because he's a boy and that it's perfectly normal. He may benefit from speech and language intervention.

7. More boys have language delays than girls.

True

There are definitely more boys than girls with a variety of language difficulties, at a ratio anywhere from 2:1 to 3:1.The incidence of Autism in boys is also higher, four times more common in boys than girls.

8. Twins are at greater risk for language delay.

True

Twins, particularly male twins, have higher risk of language delay, but it is usually mild and reduces by middle childhood. Not all twins will have challenges.

9. Late talking children, who are otherwise developing normally,always "catch up" to other children their age.

False

Research indicates that approximately 40-50% of children who are late to talk do not catch up on their own. Even when late talkers appear to catch up to other children their age, they are still at greater risk for difficulties with reading. So if you are concerned about your toddler's language development, don't listen to people who tell you to "wait and see". Consult a speech-language therapist. The earlier the help, the easier it is to catch up, and the better the likely outcome.

10. Learning two languages at the same time causes language delays in young children.

False

Children learning two languages at the same time will go through the same developmental patterns in both of their languages and at roughly the same time as children learning one language. Sometimes young children learning two languages mix words or grammar from their two languages, known as "code mixing" or "code switching". This is very normal. Children learning two languages may even have strengths in "metalinguistic skills" (the ability to think about language).

If you have any questions, feel welcome to phone Kim Chute, SLP at 250-256-4700 or email: chute@hughes.net

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