Pin It
Friday, May 24th, 2013

My child has a language delay. Should she learn another language?

Can you be bilingual with a a language delay? via shutterstock

Dear Dr. Gupta,


I have always loved learning languages. However, my four-year-old daughter (our only child) has an expressive language delay and tested in the first percentile on a state evaluation. She has been getting speech therapy for the past year and a half, but she is still very far behind other kids her age in that a lot of what she says remains unintelligible. (Her hearing and intelligence are normal.)


Next year she will be starting kindergarten. Should we go with an elementary school that offers a foreign language to all children? Or should we skip that and wait until she is older, given that she is having so much trouble with her first language?





Dear Eve,


First of all, I don’t think you should base your choice of school on whether they offer a foreign language to all children or not. It doesn’t matter whether she starts to learn a foreign language at 5, 8, 12 or whatever.


What matters most is that you choose a school where she will be happy and be able to progress at her own speed, and where staff and children will be understanding of the language delay. She will continue to need help and support with speech and with literacy. It seems to me that in those countries with which I am familiar, some schools do that better than others.


If you do decide that the best school for her is one that offers a foreign language to everyone then she should do what the other children do and have that experience. She may find it hard, but the other children will also be finding it hard. Everyone will be struggling in the new language. Working on a new language is a good way of working with language, and could support what the speech-language therapist does with her. Expressive language delay is a problem with language as a whole, not a problem with English specifically, so all work on language will be beneficial.


If you think that the best school for your daughter—all things considered—is the one that teaches a foreign language to all children, then do it.


Dr. Gupta

© 2013, Anthea Fraser Gupta. All rights reserved.

More Great Stuff You'll Love:

Ten Reasons Parents Should Read Multicultural Books to Kids

Why it's critical all parents read books that reflect diversity

Birth, Loss and In Between

Life after devastation

10 Best World Maps for Your Children’s Room

Because every little global citizen needs a map

Why African Toddlers Don't Have Tantrums

The secret of why African babies don't meltdown like Western ones.


Anthea Fraser Gupta is a sociolinguist with an interest in how children learn to talk. She was born into a monolingual environment in Middlesbrough, England, but enjoyed learning about languages from an early age. She gained a B.A. in English Linguistic Studies and Archaeology at the University of Newcastle, then went on to do an M.A. in Linguistics. She left Newcastle in 1975 to work in Singapore, where she encountered a society in which multilingualism is usual and expected. In Singapore nearly all children come to nursery school already able to speak 2 or 3 languages. While lecturing in the linguistics of English at the National University of Singapore, she did a doctoral degree at the University of York, looking at the language acquisition over two years of four Singaporean children who were growing up with four languages. In Singapore, she also married a man from a multilingual family from India. She returned to England in 1996 to the School of English at the University of Leeds, where she taught courses on both English language and bilingualism until her retirement in 2010. Anthea has had experience in a range of multilingual and multicultural societies and families. She has published books and articles on English, especially the language use of children in Singapore, and has also produced a novel for children set in Singapore. She is deeply interested in child development and believes that the most important thing in raising a child is to provide love and stimulation, regardless of what language or languages are learned.

Leave us a comment!

Notify me of follow-up comments via e-mail.
Or leave your email address and click here to receive email notifications of new comments without leaving a comment yourself.

Get weekly updates right in your inbox so you don't miss out!

Why I Travel 13 Hours Alone with My Kids Every Chance I Get

Travelling with children, while definitely more of a mission, contradicts the old saying that “life is about the journey, not the destination.”

A Diverse Book for Preschoolers in Celebration of Multicultural Children's Book Day

A book that honestly and simply celebrates the every day diversity that children experience.

Why My African Feminist Mother Gave Me the Identity of My Father's Tribe

She gave me an identity so different from her own.

2 Children’s Books about Jamaica

Explore Jamaica with your child.

Costa Rica with Kids: Two Weeks of Family Travel

Two weeks of Pura Vida in a country with so much to offer families.

Should I Worry about My Child's Accent in Her Foreign Language?

See why Dr. Gupta takes offense to this question and where children learn accents from

How to raise trilingual kids when exposure to Dad's language is limited

My kids only get 1-2 hours of the minority language per day-help!

What Cultural Norms Around Bare Feet Taught This Mother in Guatemala

Her baby's bare feet ended up being a lesson on poverty and privilege.
[…] the breastfeeding culture in Mongolia compared to America. Did you have any idea that something as simple as breastfeeding attitudes can […...
From Breastfeeding in the Land of Genghis Khan
My mother born in the 1930's is originally from the northern part of Germany. I am in my mid fifties and have a terrible relationship with my mother. She is domineering and hurts those where it hurt...
From Are Germans Really Rude?
[…] JC Niala, InCultureParent […...
From Why African Babies Don’t Cry
[…] […...
From Breastfeeding Around the World
Although humanity is one Man (in a generic sense, including woman)has identified himself endless groups, religious, nationalistic, ethnic, cultural, linguistic, etc. Once you separate ME from YOU on...
From What’s an Asian? Race and Identity for a New Generation
[…] […...
From Breastfeeding in the Land of Genghis Khan
Some great tips here but not many working mothers could feed baby every hour especially if you work in a major multi-nationa...
From Why African Babies Don’t Cry
So true!!! Thanks for being so honest and self reflective. It's a proof of true characte...
From Are Germans Really Rude?
As a first-time mom I've spent the last two months of my four-month-old's life stressed out about her sleep and I recognize how crazy this is. It's clearly not working for me! I'm wondering how non-...
From The West’s Strange Relationship to Babies and Sleep

More I Need Help! Ask A Linguist