When a child is born to a new family, the joy is unmatched any other experienced, but with joy comes worries, exhaustion and many other new experiences as well. For parents, there is never too much to worry about, when your child is an infant, you worry about their heath, then their weight, then you worry about them not getting enough nutrition. You cannot wait for them to take their first steps, run for the first time. And of course, you cannot wait for them to call you “mama” or “dada”, it’s often associated with one of the greatest joys in life.
We often hear so much “advices” from people around us about different things their children or their friend’s children go through so it’s “probably the same for your kid” but are they really true? Let’s explore and debunk some myths about speech and language development in children today.
Myth 1: Do boys start talking later than girls?
Not completely true. Boys and girls learn language at a different rate due to genetic differences and many other contributing factors (eg: environment, interaction with people, difference in hormones, etc).
Girls may start talking sooner than boys, but boys will catch up later on. During the first year of life, girls may learn vocabularies faster and start making sentences sooner, compared to boys. For example, at 16 months, girls have a vocabulary of 95 words, while boys have a vocabulary of 25 words.
However, important language developmental milestones are generally similar :
6 months : babbling
12 months : first word
18 months : know at least 20 words
2 years : start combining words
3 years : start asking simple questions….
Myth 2: Somebody else in my family have language delay/ other language impairments, does it affect my child?
Yes and No. Having a family history of speech and language delay means that your child has a higher risk for language delay. Speech & language delay is multifactorial, there are a lot of factors that may cause a delay, other risk factors include prematurity, low birth weight, childhood illness (eg: otitis media, hearing loss, cleft lip, etc..) and environmental factors (drastic changes in living environment, lack of language input, etc...).
Myth 3: I think my child will start talking even later if we use two languages at home. Is it true?
False, using two languages/ bilingualism does not cause language delay. Language delay may happen in families who are bilingual, but the delay is not due to confusion of using two languages. Language delay is multi-factorial.
In fact, you are encouraged to create an ENRICHED language environment to BOOST your child’s vocabularies. How to do that?
1. Parents may use two languages at home, but each of them shall consistently use one language with the child. (eg: Daddy uses Mandarin, mummy uses English etc).
Example: Dinner time
Mummy : “Boy, come let’s eat, it’s dinner time.”
Child : “Okay mummy, coming!”
Daddy : “Anak, jom makan!”
Child : “Baik, ayah, sekejap!”
2. Parents should also use consistent language in one situation as well.
And remember, don’t mix the languages.
Child may be confused at the beginning when new words are introduced, but with repetition and consistent usage, the child will slowly be able to pick it up.
Bilingual children vocabulary size in one language may be lesser as compared to monolingual children, but if combined total vocabulary amount in two languages of bilingual children, it will be on par with monolingual children vocabulary size.
Parents have to ensure that they interact and give sufficient language input to the child to help the child learn their native home language (even if it means two languages).
Myth 4: She watches a lot of educational videos at home, she learns a lot of words from the videos, that is good right?
Yes and no. There is good and bad in letting your child watch educational videos.
The good: If given appropriate exposure, children can learn vocabularies well from educational videos as they typically incorporate songs, actions and visuals (pictures, colours) and repetitions. This motivates children and children are able to pay attention for a longer time.
The bad: Prolonged screen time affects children’s communication, language, play and social development in long term. It reduces children’s time to interact with people, thus affecting child’s motivation and practice to interact with people.
Interaction with parents and others is important for children to learn to engage in back-and-forth communication, nonverbal social skills, use/understand more words, start to say longer sentences and the use language for a range of social purposes (request, express emotions, reject, comment, exchange thoughts/ information etc).
Lack of practice to interact/communicate using nonverbal and verbal languages with others which will affect their social skills.
Myth 5: I think my child is delayed because nobody talks to him when he was young, he stays at home alone with the nanny and watch tv. Is it true?
Not completely true. Insufficient language input and stimulation may be one of the contributing factors to language delay, but it is not the only factor. There are many factors that could cause language delay including family history, birth conditions, environmental factors etc.
Families can aid their children's language development by using language stimulations strategies in daily routines such as bath time, mealtime, story time etc.
If you have any concerns about your child’s speech and language development, contact a speech- language therapist.
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