Reader question: Please can you ask your readers: have any other children brought up in multilingual households been slow to talk? My daughter is 19 months and can only say a handful of words despite following instructions well in all three languages, making herself understood, and being advanced with the rest of her development milestones? Thanks xx

Responses:

  1. I had a bilingual nursery in Spain and this was the case for all bilingual or multilingual children. The more languages they had the longer it took. I had a girl that had 4 languages to work out and she didn’t speak properly until she was near 3. Your daughter may start to say a few words from the language she hears the most first. All she is trying to do is work out what language is what and you may find as she grows she may switch between the languages. If she doesn’t know a word in one language but she does in another she will use what she knows. I hope this helps.

2. My 21-month-old will only say one or two words and we are in a single language household eldest was talking loads at her age each child develops at different stages and then add multiple languages on top then it’s bound to be confusing for her if she understands and follows out instructions in the different languages then nothing to worry about xx

3. I have heard that it’s very common for bilingual children to start talking later than average. A friend knew a couple whose children barely said a word until they were around 3 but picked up very quickly both the languages. If your child is hearing three languages I would say it may take even longer for her to really start talking but when she can speak three languages you won’t be worrying! And at 19 months lots of children are still quiet!

4. Very common for bi or multilingual children to be slower to talk initially. They have so much more to take in and learn! However these children have been shown to excel in languages later on and find it far easier to learn additional ones.

5. Yes, I think my lo (also 19 months) is ‘slow’ with speech because we’re a trilingual household. He understands two of the languages very well though, and knows how to communicate with us. I just read ‘the bilingual family, and it’s reassuring. It’s nothing to worry about, and the pay off when your daughter can speak more than one language will make up for it.

6. According to research, the more languages a child hears/learns the longer it will take for them to start talking, but when they do it will be in all the languages. So a trilingual child will take longer than bilingual and even longer than a single language child.

7.My daughter was counting to twenty and saying few words as well as understanding more in 4 languages at 20months x
8.My daughter spoke pretty clearly at 18 months (she’s now 4) however my son is 20 months and still only babbles the odd word. Don’t worry about it. As long as they fully understand they’ll speak when they’re ready.
9. My nephews were brought up in a bilingual house and were late to start talking. Was a worry at times as like your little one there was only a few words here and there. They were both around 4 years old and had just started nursery when their speech came on leaps and bounds and you’d now think there was never a problem. Brilliant having them speak 2 languages from such a young age, kinda makes me wish I was given the chance to learn more than one language.x
10. My daughter is 2.5 years and a proper chatterbox in English, but only some sentences in German. She is different to all the others in her class though who are much slower, particularly if they have a 3rd language as well. I think it depends on the languages though as some are much more complicated for kids, and in our case I never stop talking so she probably gets that from me!
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