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Speech and Language Development in Children: Language Delay

This post is one in a series of posts about child development. You can see the earlier posts here.

Single Mother Ahoy Language Delay

  • Language development and speech development are two very different things. Language delay is a delay in the cognitive functioning around learning to talk, whereas speech delay is a delay in the actual physical production of words.
  • If a child has a speech delay, this cannot cause a language delay, but language delay may cause speech delay where a lack of understanding of the words causes a delay in learning to say them.
  • Children can experience a language delay if they have insufficient opportunity to identify words and link them to something familiar.
  • With typically developing children, there is a close link between what their mother is saying, and what is happening around them.
  • Margaret Harris and colleagues performed a study in 1983 where they found that 78% of the things mothers said to their 16 month old children referred to whatever the child was currently focusing on. They also found that almost 50% of the things the mothers said contained at least one specific object name.
  • Conversely, in a later study, they found that mothers of children with a language delay at 2 years referred to what the child was focusing on less than 50% of the time, and only 25% of their words contained specific object names.
  • Mothers of children with language delay instead referred to objects in general terms – “that thing,” “one of those” instead of “the ball” or “the cup.”
  • This sampling of the mothers’ speech was done before a language delay was evident so it’s not likely that the child’s language delay caused these mothers to change the way they spoke to their child.
  • That said, we still can’t be sure exactly what causes a language delay.
  • Margaret Harris has stated however, that there is definitely an interactive relationship between mothers’ speech and their children’s language development.
What can we learn from this then, as parents?
The key message is that what we say to our children makes a massive difference to their language abilities in the long term.
In every book, article and study I’ve read while doing this module on child development, the relationship with the mother (or father, or other caregiver) is stressed as the most important thing in the child’s life. (most studies focus on the mother, that’s why I’ve used “mother” throughout my posts)

I don’t know about you, but I often look up and think “good grief, you talk a lot of crap to that child!” but what I’m actually doing is pointing out everything of interest, naming everything she is looking at or walking towards or touching or falling over.

“oh look, there’s a doggie! Say hi doggie! Ah, what a lovely doggie; hi doggie! And here are some ducks! How many ducks are there? There’s another duck! Here’s a white duck! Shall we feed the ducks? This duck wants to eat all the bread doesn’t he!” 

This gibbering is actually really important for your child to learn not only object names, but the connecting words between them, and words for their thoughts and feelings and colours and all the rest. All this gibbering is teaching your child language, and it’s vitally important.

Vicky is a mother, a blogger, a podcaster and a social media trainer. She writes about life as a single mother, parenting and lifestyle type things.

3 Comments
  • Victoria - WTTP

      REPLY

    Haha i do this..people must think im weird but i read somewhere they need to hear it 200 times or something before it registers soooo. Is there something about speech delay with hearing problems? My sister is currently appealing for gromits for her 20 month old id love to know if there is anyway to help him x

  • anna

      REPLY

    Always good to see posts about speech and language development, very important issue! I have some on my blog too. <br />Victoria yes hearing definitely has an effect on speech, 20 months is really young for grommets though! but good luck to her little boy hope he gets the help he needs!

  • Sadie

      REPLY

    My boy had delayed speech didn&#39;t say anything once I got pregnant, I think it was a reaction to the pregnancy but we went through the speech therapy system, we already did Tiny Talk and he knew 30-50 signs so we could see he had no problems with language development just speech. We attended classes that told us to get to his level and describe everything simply, adding more words such as,

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