Multilingualism & Disorders: Do Bilingual Children Tend to Have Language Delay?

by expert · 1 comment

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


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: URL:

General references relevant to core issues in the Multilingualism & Disorders series.

General public:


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:

Disclaimer: This post and the comments provided below have been provided for informational and entertainment purposes only and is not intended to replace or substitute for any professional financial, medical, legal, or other advice. This post has been published with the full consent of the author. The author has agreed to Madalena Cruz-Ferreira answering the Ask Madalena question publicly as well as readers leaving comments in the comment section below. Multilingual Living makes no representations or warranties and expressly disclaims any and all liability concerning any treatment or action by any person following the information offered or provided within or through this and any other information on this website. If you have specific concerns or a situation in which you require professional or medical advice, you should consult with an appropriately trained and qualified specialist. Please read our Terms of Use for more detail or contact us with any questions.

{ 0 comments… add one now }

Leave a Comment

{ 1 trackback }

Previous post:

Next post: