Multilingualism & Disorders: Are There Any Disorders Which Are Caused By Bilingualism?

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Multilingualism is neither odd nor worrying: what is odd, and very worrying, are the views that persist about it.

The topics in this Multilingualism & Disorders series aim at clarifying the misconceptions that associate multilingualism with disorders.

Each topic offers a brief introduction to common questions, and includes one token reference, which either marks watershed findings or otherwise addresses points which are perhaps less known within research on multilingualism.

This condensed format is deliberate, meant to invite discussion, thoughts, and more queries. Only with your help, as engaged readers, can we make this series the useful tool that we hope it will become.

— Madalena Cruz-Ferreira

Are there any clinical diagnoses which are caused by multilingualism?

No. There is no correlation between clinical diagnoses and multilingualism. This means that multilingualism can neither be the cause of clinical diagnoses nor the remedy for them.

Autism, Down syndrome, SLI (Specific Language Impairment) and language delay, among other diagnoses, usually involve atypical development of language, because language development is related to cognitive and social development. This has nothing to do with the number of languages involved. These diagnoses affect monolinguals and multilinguals alike. Multilingualism is not a clinical condition. Neither does it worsen, or repair, clinical conditions.

Starting from the early 1900s, multilingualism came to be associated with different kinds of disorder for two reasons. First, because studies purporting to investigate multilingualism were methodologically flawed: they compared, for example, multilinguals from disfavoured socio-economic groups with monolinguals from favoured ones. Second, because these studies used monolingual assessment tools to gauge multilingual competence.

Still today, one century later, the misguided conclusions from these early studies linger on. Researchers have since learned to design better studies, but assessment tools remain based on monolingual norms of usage.

There are, to date, no assessment norms addressing multilingual uses of language, although there is growing awareness among professionals that monolingual assessment tools should be used with great caution for multilingual populations.

Specific reference for the above topic:

General references relevant to core issues in the Multilingualism and Disorders series:

General public:

  • Cruz-Ferreira, M. (2010). Multilinguals are …? Battlebridge Publications. Book URL:


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:

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