Multilingualism & Disorders: My Speech-Language Therapist Wants Me to Switch to One Language

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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

My child’s speech-language therapist is telling me that I should switch to just one language. What are some questions I can ask to find out why this is being recommended?

Ask your therapist for references to scientific studies which support this recommendation by providing evidence that a) multilingualism affects language disorders or other disorders; and b) language disorders or other disorders do not affect monolinguals, or affect them less than multilinguals.  There are no such studies.

A scientific study is based on a fair sample of data. Fair samples which are used for the purposes of comparison control all the variables that are irrelevant to the comparison in question. For example, if we want to find out whether boys and girls prefer specific colours, we make all other variables except the child’s sex the same. We choose boys and girls of the same age, socio-economic background, number and order of siblings, level of education, and so on.

If we want to find out whether switching to monolingualism with a multilingual child helps that child fight a language disorder, we look for studies where a fair sample of disordered multilingual children improved their condition or recovered from it through the use of a single language.

The reason why there are no such studies is that there cannot be such studies. We cannot compare disordered multilingualism with healthy monolingualism in the same child because language disorder, or any other disorder, has no relation whatsoever to the number of languages in a child’s repertoire.

If a multilingual child does have a disorder, switching to monolingualism will simply create a monolingual child with a disorder. It will not address the disorder itself.

Specific reference for the above topic:

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

General public:

  • Cruz-Ferreira, M. (2010). Multilinguals are …? Battlebridge Publications. Book URL:
  • Grosjean, F. (2010). Bilingual. Life and reality. Harvard University Press. Book URL:


  • Cruz-Ferreira, M. (Ed.). (2010). Multilingual norms. Peter Lang.
    Book URL:
  • Genesee, F., Paradis, J., & Crago, M. (2004). Dual language development and disorders: A handbook on bilingualism and second language learning. Brookes Publishing.
    Book URL:
  • Grosjean, F. (2008). Studying bilinguals. Oxford University Press.
    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:

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.

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1 Karen Nemeth November 22, 2011 at 11:09 am

Here’s an important update. Dual Language Development and Disorders has been updated for a very current 2nd edition in 2010 with lots of new research to support the notion that children with disabilities or delays need to continue growing and learning in their home language and their school language. In the new edition, the authors are listed as Paradis, Genesee and Crago. Also in 2010 a very powerful position statement on this topic (with research citations) was released by the Council for Exceptional Children Division for Early Childhood


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