Our Doctor Wants Us To Stop Speaking Spanish

by Corey · 2 comments

I have a four year old who we are trying to raise bi-lingual. She has a hearing loss and her ENT suggested that we only stick to one language because she is speaking jibberish. This jibberish sounds like her trying to speak Spanish. I really feel that she is doing this because I have not given her a strong enough vocabulary in Spanish. Can you please help? Her ENT doctor is great with her hearing issues but he is not an expert on languages and I live in an area where there are very few therapist who know about raising children in more than one language.


Dear Katina,

Slurred speech, ‘gibberish’-like, is common among the hearing-impaired. Your child slurs because she can’t hear properly what is spoken to her, in order to be able to reproduce it. She reproduces, in her speech, what she hears, not what is spoken to her.

This means, first, that your girl’s speech delivery has absolutely nothing to do with your input or the strength of your/her vocabulary, or grammar. It is not your fault, or the fault of your language, that your girl cannot hear.

Second, that she will slur in all her languages, whether she has one or more. She slurs because she cannot hear, not because she is multilingual. Sticking to one language will neither solve nor alleviate her hearing problem. It will only create a new problem, a different one, that of forcing monolingualism into a family that is naturally multilingual.

Hearing loss, like for example lisping, is a physical issue, whereas language is a socio-cognitive one: the number of languages one speaks has nothing to do with one’s physical condition. One of my children lisped heavily in all his three languages up to age 6, and another one slurred her words because of hearing loss in both ears, until several surgical procedures solved this problem.

Your girl doesn’t have a language problem, she needs to have her hearing addressed. You can follow the competent advice that you mention from your current ENT doctor, in ENT matters. As you say, it doesn’t sound like language matters are part of his expertise. Alternatively, as I’ve advised before on this page, you could try to contact a therapist, or an ENT specialist, who knows about multilingualism.

To reassure you further, have a look at a very similar question to yours, recently posted to Ask-a-Linguist, and at the answers it received, one of them mine. Here:


Do feel free to contact me privately, if you wish to discuss this in greater detail.


Madalena Cruz-Ferreira, PhD, University of Manchester, UK, is a multilingual parent, educator and scholar, and the author of Multilinguals are...?, a book on myths and misconceptions about multilingualism. Her blog Being Multilingual deals with multilingualism at home, in school and in clinic. Her contact, and details on her work, are at: beingmultilingual.com.

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

1 errgt erre October 16, 2011 at 2:20 am

In the past, immigrants from all over the world dropped the old language and spoke the American language, like everybody else. They didn’t keep on speaking Chinese, Japanese, Dutch, German, Russian, Italian, Portuguese, or even Spanish. People in the past were assimilators, not invaders, because they honored the existing national identity. If you come here and try to destroy our identity, you are an invader.


2 Melissa May 14, 2012 at 12:56 am

Spanish. America is quickly becoming a dual-language country, and many people are unsure where to find the best software to learn Spanish.


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