Late speaking and bilingualism (draft)
When our 2nd son proved to be a late speaker some people said that
it was because he came from a bilingual family. I was a late-speaker
and still don't find languages easy. I can see parallels between
the problems I have in Italy and our son's situation.
- Mother - Italian. Bilingual. Speaks mostly Italian to our children
- Father - English. Speaks mostly English to the children
- Son1 - 7 years old. Prefers English because he's better at it, but is
happy with Italian. Spent a week at an italian nursery school.
Rarely speaks it in the house.
- Son2 - 3.5 years old. Late speaker. Aware of Italian/English distinction.
Says as much Italian as English.
Son2's speech comprehension and production is delayed. Various
causes were investigated
So the conclusion is that he's "just" a late speaker.
- Brain problems - he's a happy, affectionate child, good at sports,
reasonable at counting and letter recognition, and
keen on computers (presumably because they respond to his wishes).
He's interested in mechanisms, but not unduly so.
Given his language handicap he copes well with everyday problems.
- Hearing - The usual
hearing tests were done. Though he doesn't always respond to his name,
his hearing's ok.
- Heredity -
I spoke fairly late, and my pronunciation was such that no-one outside
the family understood me until I was 4.
- Bilingualism -
Speech therapists didn't blame the bilingual household. When the Mother
suggested that she should stick to English, the therapist said no,
though she suggested that the mother shouldn't say everything twice, once in
I can see parallels between the monolinguist in a bilingual world,
and a non-linguist in a monolingual world.
- Attempts at controlling situations meet with little success and
being based on limited information are likely not to be very
sensible. When a chance arises where one can be assertive it's easy
to appear over-assertive.
- When one starts talking in a group, the group goes silent
- One doesn't expect to be understood
- It's easy to tune out of conversation
- One's often forced into Yes/No situations because one can't
express conditionality. This is frustrating for both sides. If
Son2, wanting to see the end of a video,
is asked if he wants to go to the park, conversation can escalate
until a parent says "Well do you want to go to the park or not? Yes or
- I have trouble learning vocabulary. I'm not good at learning word
lists. Memory is also restricted because I don't naturally associate words
with a real-world context. The words come last, after concepts have
been established. Son2 doesn't seem very interested in nouns or objects.
He never passed
through a phase of asking "What's that?" - his first question was
"What are you doing?" and the second was "Happened?"
The above disadvantages of speech delay affect some personality types
more than others. Those who dislikes failing will become more withdrawn,
those who want to interact might become frustrated and anti-social.
Updated in July 2000