Once I took my daughter for a routine check up to the health clinic and the nurse asked different questions about her language abilities, phrases that she uses, frequency of her urge to talk and most specifically the vocabulary.
Speech delay is becoming a hot issue among the young and the number is increasing day by day. Old research concluded that the children shouldn’t be learning multiple languages at the same time. It was said that there must be a target language a child must focus on. If a child does not have enough exposure to the target language, they cannot become fluent. They thought adding too many languages at once could mean the child can speak multiple languages, but can’t be actually fluent in any one of them. In Hong Kong alone, the children learn Cantonese, Mandarin and English and the expat kids have to learn their own mother tongue as well. And majority of the cases related to speech delay were the kids of the expats. Other local kids who have speech issues were also somehow in touch of multiple languages. So the speech delay was usually associated with the exposure of multilingual environment.
Then came in another research from the University of Chicago psychologists which found out that young children who hear or speak more than one language at home become better communicators. This new research was published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science. According to the researchers, effective communication requires the ability to take others’ perspectives. They also discovered that children from multilingual environments are better at interpreting other person’s speech than children who are exposed only to their native tongue. The most important finding was that it is the exposure to more than one language that is the key for building effective social communication skills and the children do not even have to be bilingual themselves.
These two different findings have created a dilemma. On one hand, exposure to multiple languages prevents a child from mastering a single language and causes speech delay. While on the other hand, multilingual environment helps in effective social development which is inevitably a key to success in this existing world.
It is usually an art to tackle dilemmas, but at our end we can at least try our best. Due to globalization, existence of multilingual environment is natural. If a child is facing speech delay, talk with her more in her native language; give confidence to reply in small phrases, audio storytelling is a good source of building word bank. These small steps taken will eventually lead to a big achievement, as slow and steady wins the race.