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
Do multilingual children tend to have language delay?
No. “Language delay” is the label for a clinical condition. It is not a description of informal observations about a child’s use of one or more languages. The condition affects language, not particular languages.
Language delay is characterised by linguistic under-performance, measured against standards gathered among typically-developing child peers, whether in production or comprehension of language. It is commonly found together with other clinical conditions such as autism, Down syndrome or SLI (Specific Language Impairment).
Language delay is sometimes discussed together with speech delay, although speech and language are different things. Speech is a physical ability, characterised by sophisticated coordination of breathing with several muscles in the upper body and head. This includes the muscles in the vocal tract, which stretches from the larynx (voice box) to the lips, and includes the nasal cavities. Lisping, for example, is a speech issue.
Language is a socio-cognitive ability, characterised by sophisticated use of symbols to organise experiences and express them in communication with other human beings. Understanding and using metaphors, for example, is a language issue.
Language delay affects all of a child’s languages, whether the child has one language or more than one. It is found among multilingual and monolingual children alike.
There is no evidence of greater (or lesser) incidence of language delay among either monolingual or multilingual children.
Specific reference for the above topic:
- Stein, M. T., Flores, G., Graham, E. A., Magana, L., & Willies-Jacobo, L. (2002). Cultural and linguistic determinants in the diagnosis and management of development delay in a four year old. Journal of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics, 23(5), S43-S48 (371-376). Article URL: tinyurl.com/3797ss2. Journal URL: journals.lww.com/jrnldbp/pages/default.aspx
General references relevant to core issues in the Multilingualism & Disorders series.
- Cruz-Ferreira, M. (2010). Multilinguals are …? Battlebridge Publications. Book URL: www.battlebridge.com
- Grosjean, F. (2010). Bilingual. Life and reality. Harvard University Press. Book URL: www.hup.harvard.edu/catalog.php?isbn=9780674048874
- Cruz-Ferreira, M. (Ed.). (2010). Multilingual norms. Peter Lang. Book URL: www.peterlang.com/Index.cfm?vID=59637&vLang=E
- Genesee, F., Paradis, J., & Crago, M. (2004). Dual language development and disorders: A handbook on bilingualism and second language learning. Brookes Publishing. Book URL: www.brookespublishing.com/store/books/genesee-6865/index.htm
- Grosjean, F. (2008). Studying bilinguals. Oxford University Press. Book URL: ukcatalogue.oup.com/product/9780199281282.do