April 30, 2022
by Mary Pat
Comments Off on What’s the story with stuttering & bilingual children?

What’s the story with stuttering & bilingual children?


Key words about the research on this topic? Ambiguous, conflicting, sparse!

I’ve read two systematic reviews that aimed to pull together several studies on the topic & I picked key points from both to keep things simple.

First up is Choo & Smith’s (2020) review that looked at 50 studies about stuttering in bilingual children. Key findings from that review are:

  1. There’s no clear evidence that bilingual children are at an increased risk of stuttering.
  2. More bilingual boys stutter than girls.
  3. Bilingual boys are less likely to recover than bilingual girls.
  4. Onset of stuttering in bilingual girls is earlier than in bilingual boys.
  5. The majority of bilingual children who stutter have a positive family history of stuttering.

Bottom line according to Choo & Smith? The current research offers a fragmented, limited understanding of bilingualism & stuttering & more research is needed.

The second systematic review by Chaudhary and colleagues in 2021 examined 13 studies & mentioned 3 patterns of stuttering in bilingual people:

  1. Stuttering in one language only
  2. Stuttering of equal severity in both languages
  3. Less stuttering in (any) one language

They said that Pattern #3 is the most commonly observed.

What causes the differences? The research reports on things like:

  • Language proficiency
  • Language dominance
  • Linguistic proximity between the languages
  • Grammatical, phonetic, and syntactic differences between the languages

Key Concepts:

Dominance & Proficiency: these are not the same thing & they’re not straightforward!

Chaudhary & colleages define them like this:

Proficiency means knowledge of the languages in terms of syntax (grammar), vocabulary, and pronunciation of the languages.

Dominance means the relative strength of the proficiency of the languages along with the frequency and usage of the languages.

In their systematic review, Chaudhary & colleagues reported several studies that found more stuttering in the less dominant language, possibly indicating a less well-developed language system as a contributing factor to stuttering in people where one language is stronger than the other.

They reported conflicting results when it comes to the influence of proficiency on variations in stuttering. Some studies found more stuttering behaviours in L2 and others in L1 (where there was a clear L1 & L2).

The purpose of their systematic review was to identify linguistic factors that play a role in stuttering in bilingual people. The main conclusions that they came to are that:

  • Proficiency and dominance are the major factors that influence the stuttering frequency in bilingual people who stutter but studies differ in terms of how they describe language proficiency and dominance  so different studies find different things.
  • When it comes to structural and functional features of the languages, although it’s common to attribute differences in stuttering behaviours to differences between the person’s languages, the evidence here is ‘whimsical ….. neither data-driven nor empirically proven’.

So while there are lots of gaps in the research, two things are clear:

  1. Speaking two or more languages does not cause stuttering.
  2. Dropping your home languages is not recommended.


Let’s get talking!


What I read so you don’t have to

Chaudhary, C., Maruthy, S. Guddattu, V., & Krishnan, G. (2021). A systematic review on the role of language-related factors in the manifestation of stuttering in bilinguals Journal of Fluency Disorders 68.


Choo AL, Smith S, Bilingual Children Who Stutter: Convergence, Gaps, and Directions for Research (2020) Journal of Fluency Disorders 63.


January 28, 2022
by Mary Pat
Comments Off on 6 tips for children with persistent reading difficulties and dyslexia

6 tips for children with persistent reading difficulties and dyslexia

It’s the last post in our five part series and we are back with 6 tips for children who continue to struggle with reading or who have been assessed and identified as having dyslexia. Phyllis Jordan, Senior Speech & Language Therapist and friend of mine, has the following tips for you:

  1. Keep it functional when it comes to homework. If the class reader is too difficult, let them read a part of it and then you read the rest.
  2. For maths homework, you read out the questions so they can work out the answer and not spend unnecessary energy on the reading.
  3. If they have to answer questions on a paragraph, read the questions aloud to them first. That way they can read the paragraph for the desired meaning with a sense of what is expected of them.
  4. Oral language is the foundation of literacy so keep up the quality conversations about topics of interest, movies, documentaries, experiences that you’ve watched together. Have conversations where they explain how to play a game that they love to you.
  5. Develop typing skills as a way around issues with writing.
  6. Get support from your local dyslexia association who can organise assessments, workshops, trainings for parents and teachers.



We really hope you enjoyed this series and found it useful. If you did,  please share with your friends!

Let’s get talking!

MP & Phyllis


January 28, 2022
by Mary Pat
Comments Off on 6 tips for helping children aged 8 and above with their reading

6 tips for helping children aged 8 and above with their reading

Here we are with the 4th post in our series of 5 about helping children with their reading. I’ll hand you over to my friend and SLT colleague Phyllis Jordan who works specifically with children and young people who struggle to read.  If reading difficulties persist from age eight and older, she suggests trying the following 6 tips :

  1. Keep practicing at your child’s level of reading and let them choose the books for shared reading with you. Shared reading is where you model the skills of a proficient reader. That means you read to them fluently and with expression as if you were recording your own audio book. Sharing of books like this can help your child access books that they might struggle to read on their own. You can pause to have discussions about what you both think is going to happen next or about what has just happened. You can also discuss if anything similar happened to you or your child in real life.
  2. When you’re doing shared reading and they are reading to you, you can fill in the difficult words for them. This will help with reading rate and reading fluency. It’s not a test.
  3. Audio books can also be helpful. Just make sure that your child has the book in hard copy too so that they can read the text while listening.
  4. Use a Hi-Lo approach. This means books with a high level of interest to your child and age appropriateness and low in terms of the reading demands. The Barrington Stoke website is a good source for English reading. Their books are designed to be super-readable and encouraging for children who are reluctant to read or struggle to read.
  5. Coloured or cream background can make reading easier than black print on white paper.
  6. Encourage slow but accurate reading when they’re practicing phonics skills. This helps them understand better and can help increase their confidence as they experience success. They can increase their rate over time.

In the next and last post in the series, we’re going to share tips for situations where the challenges persist or where your child has dyslexia.

If you like this post, please share with your friends!

Let’s get talking!

MP & Phyllis

October 15, 2021
by Mary Pat
Comments Off on 6 things to do when your child’s reading just doesn’t seem to be improving

6 things to do when your child’s reading just doesn’t seem to be improving

Welcome to the third post in the five part series about reading and writing in children, put together for you by myself and my friend and colleague Phyllis Jordan who works specifically with children who struggle with reading. In the last post, which you can read here,  we shared 8 tips for what to do if you’re worried about your child’s reading. In this post, we share 6 tips for what to do when the reading challenges have become more established and your child goes to speech and language therapy.

  1. Continue building phonological awareness skills like What’s the first sound in the word? What sound comes next? What’s the first word in the sentence? How many letters in the word? How many sounds in the word?  And try and make this into a game.
  2. Alongside reading at the right level, it’s also important for your child to choose books that they’re interested in for you to read together. Think about fostering a love of print and reading- could be the menu for takeaway from their favourite restaurant- as long as they enjoy it. 
  3. If your child is learning phonics, get graded phonics readers. This means finding out your child’s exact level e.g. are they reading Consonant-Vowel-Consonant level ( bat, cat, fat)? Then read phonics books at that level. Dandelion Books are a good option in English.
  4. Ask your speech and language therapist for support with phonological awareness and linking it with literacy. Things often move too fast at school and your child may need more time and help with making those connections between sounds and letters. (Phonological awareness includes being able to manipulate sounds for example, If you take cow away from cowboy, what do you get? Or what’s the first sound in fox? Or tell me three words that rhyme with bake. It’s one thing to know the names of letters and another to know the sounds each letter makes. We’re talking about languages with phonemic/alphabetic writing systems such as English, Italian etc.)
  5. Focus on sounds first. They can work on the letter names later.  
  6. Once your child is experiencing some success with the early phonics, you can practice the sight words we mentioned before (words like come, does, who in English). You can weave in some phonics even with the sight words. For example, ‘we’ starts with /w/ + a tricky vowel.  

That’s it for now! In our next post, we’ll share 6 tips for children ages 8 and older who are having trouble with reading.

If you like this post, please share with your friends.

Let’s get talking!

MP & Phyllis

September 10, 2021
by Mary Pat
Comments Off on Eight things to do when you’re worried that your child is struggling to read

Eight things to do when you’re worried that your child is struggling to read

And we’re back! Phyllis Jordan, my speech and language therapy colleague and friend have 8 tips for you if you’re worried about your child learning to read. In our first post, we shared 14 ways for helping your child learn to read and you can find that post here.

  1. Practice phonics skills. That’s the letter and sound links we mentioned in our last post. There’s the letter name (bee) and the sound it makes (buh) and children need to learn both. Practice over-learning by doing short bursts a few times a day. That’s better than a few times a week. Over-learning means continuing to practice even though you no longer improve; rehearsing at the same level of difficulty in order to really lock in the skill.  Where you can, weave this practice into everyday life like on the way to and from school or after-school activities. And practice in all of your languages where this is relevant and talk about how the languages are similar or different.
  2. Check if your child recognises sight words like come, does, who out of context. These are words that have to be memorised because they don’t follow a pattern in English. We’ve given examples from English here as it’s the language we work in. You will have your own examples from your languages. 
  3. Check if they can sound out words out of the context in which they learned them. Children can become expert at learning off text which makes them look like they’re reading more fluently than they can. 
  4. Check to see if your child is putting their finger under the correct words as they read aloud. 
  5. If you’re concerned, trust your instinct as literacy challenges can go unmissed in a busy classroom especially if your child is well-behaved and is good at learning things off by heart.  
  6. Check if your child understands what they’re reading because that’s important too. You can do this subtly by asking questions about what’s just happened in the story and having conversations about the story.
  7. Talk to their teacher about how they’re getting on and ask for suggestions on how to help.
  8. If they continue to struggle, think about referring your child to speech and language therapy. Spoken language skills lay the foundation for literacy and there are many aspects of speech and language  we can assess to help work out what might be going on.

If you like this post, please pass it on to your friends.  If you’d like to meet other people raising multilingual children, be sure and join Becoming Bilingual  on Facebook.

Let’s Get Talking!

MP & Phyllis

August 26, 2021
by Mary Pat
Comments Off on 14 Ways To Help Your Child Learn To Read

14 Ways To Help Your Child Learn To Read

It’s that time of year again when school starts and we stumble through the first few days of getting back into a routine. Do you remember learning to read? I have a vague recollection of books about a boy and girl whose names I can’t now remember. Peter and Jane? Dick and Jane? Not Tara and Ben though! I remember being puzzled at seeing two hads in one sentence: She had had her dinner didn’t make sense to me! Learning to read is such a milestone. I remember when my little girl started to read independently and it was bitter sweet. I was delighted she could do it but also a little sad that she would now enter other worlds without me. This post is the first in a series of 5 about helping your child to learn how to read. Joining me is my friend and fellow speech and language therapist Phyllis Jordan who has lots of experience of working with children who struggle with reading.


This post is for you if you had trouble learning to read and write when you were a child and you’re a bit worried about your own child learning to read. It’s also for you if your child’s other parent had trouble learning to read and write as a child. Or if any of you in the immediate family struggle with reading and writing now. It’s worthwhile getting in there early and developing pre-reading skills. What are they? They’re not as intimidating as they sound! You can start these from infancy by including books, songs, and nursery rhymes in your home languages during your time together. Spoken language is a critical foundation for learning to read and write. Developing these skills in fun ways will set your child up with a solid foundation for what they encounter in school.


Here are 14 ideas to get you started:


Toddlers & Infants

# 1 Nursery Rhymes & Songs

What are your child’s favourite nursery rhymes in your home languages? Once your child is familiar with the rhyme, you can start saying it and leave a pause at the end of each line for your child to fill in the missing rhyming word.


You can do this with songs too. Here’s a quick video to show you how to do it.


Songs that have actions like Eency Weency Spider or Teddy Bear, Teddy Bear Turn Around or similar ones in your own languages are also good to do.


Preschool- aged children


# 2 Rhyming games

You pick a word and then take turns at adding a word that rhymes. So, in English it would look like this:


You: Coat. What rhymes with coat?

Child: Goat.

You: Yes! My turn. Wrote.


They can be real words or nonsense words. You can decide at the outset. It’s about the sound of the word or non-word, not the spelling. Whoever comes up with the most words that rhyme wins. You can do this in all of your languages which will build meta-linguistic awareness and that in turn will help with learning to read in the different languages.


# 3 Awareness of sounds at the start of words

Play Simon Says or I Spy where you say Simon Says ‘Find something that starts with /s/’. You say the sound (sss) not the letter name (es). You can do this with I Spy as well where you say I Spy with my little eye something beginning with /s/. These games are about developing awareness of the sounds, not about the letter name.


# 4 Use your senses

This means that you draw your child’s attention to things about the sounds, for example noticing how your lips are rounded when you say ‘sh’ or how your top teeth are on your lower lip for /f/. Can they feel the puff of air on the back of their hand when they say ‘puh’? How about putting their fingers on their nose and feel the bones vibrate when they say ‘mmmm’ and no vibration when they say /s/? And try putting their fingers at their throat and feeling the difference when they say /s/ (no vibration) and /z/ (vibrating).


#5 Make your own Book of Sounds

Cut out and paste pictures, maybe 2 pictures per page, of words starting with a particular sound like puh or muh. One sound per page. Again it’s sounds not letter names. But if your child is able for it, you can talk about the letter names and the sounds they make. You can have separate books for your different languages. There are lovely jigsaws available too that include the letter name and sound it makes. I like Orchard Toys for English. And Alphabet Jigsaws based in Ireland have beautiful wooden jigsaws including the Irish language alphabet and early vocabulary too.


#6 Reading Together

This is a great way to foster children’s awareness of print so you can put your finger under the words as you read to tune your young child into the idea of words. Here is a post about dialogic book reading and here is another one with more ideas of how to get the most out of reading together from very early on to children who are reading.


# 7 Memory & Sequencing Games

These are the kinds of games where you take turns to recall a list of things. You start: I went to the shop and I bought ice-cream or I was going on holidays and I packed a toothbrush. Each person repeats the list and adds an item. You’re out when you forget an item. You can also play Simon Says where you give longer commands like Simon Says touch your nose, hop on one leg, and smile.


#8 Visiting the library for story-time and chatting about the story on the way home or the next day.

#9 Going to the library and letting them pick the books.


School-aged children

#10 Reading together daily if you can and it doesn’t have to be at bed time. It could be when your child is having a snack after school.

#11  Watching movies that have an accompanying book and then reading the book. Or the other way around.

#12 Discussing what you think of the plot, characters, things that happen, differences between the movie and the book.

#13 Asking the librarians for inspiration for books your child might like to read together.

#14 Doing readathons at school or joining in summer reading schemes at your local library.


For reluctant readers, I’d say ‘Don’t give up!”. It took lockdown and a random discovery of Heidi for my reluctant reader to go from  saying ‘Reading is so boring‘ to staying up late into the night to read another chapter at age 10!


In our next post, we’re going to give you ideas for what to do if you’re worried about your child’s reading. If you like this post, please pass it onto your friends. And come join us over in Facebook  in the group:

Becoming Bilingual

Let’s get talking!

MP & Phyllis

April 21, 2021
by Mary Pat
Comments Off on Learning to Read and Write in Two Or More Languages

Learning to Read and Write in Two Or More Languages

This is a massive topic! There’s so much debate about methods and strategies and timing for learning to read and write. I’m not going to try and cover everything in this post or we’d be here forever! I’m just going to look at when and the how for multilingual children who are at school.

When to start reading in two or more languages

When speech and language therapists think about language we think about understanding, speaking, reading, and writing. Oral language, understanding and speaking, sets the scene for learning to read and write.  Vocabulary and story-telling ability are importnant for learning to read. So, the easiest way to help with reading and writing is to focus on having quality conversations with your child from when they’re babies. Different countries have different policies and practices for introducing reading and writing at school. But the journey to literacy begins early and there’s lots you can do to help.

What does the research say about learning to read in two or more languages? I just got Colin Baker and Wayne Wright’s book: Foundations of Bilingual Education & Bilingualism. It’s the most recent edition so it’s hot off the press. Here are some key points from the chapter on literacy:

  • Some bilingual children learn to read and write in both languages at the same time
  • Other bilingual children learn to read in home languages first and then in a different language at school
  • Other children learn to read in the school language first and then in the home language
  • All of these approaches will tend to result in what they call ‘successful biliteracy’

Main message? Don’t stress about the timing.

Let’s have a look at some options:

How to help your child learn to read in all of their languages

One of my favourite books about children is John Holt’s How Children Learn. It’s 50th anniversary is this year so it’s been around a while. There’s one key point that stands the test of time when it comes to learning to read. Drawing your child’s attention to print in everyday situations. Opportunities are everywhere once you start to look. When you are reading together, you can point out things about the font size. I remember doing this with my daughter when she was four years old. We were reading a book which was a version of Cinderella but with bees as the characters. And when someone was upset, the font was bigger for their talk. So I would draw her attention to that and say something like ‘See how the writing is bigger to show that she’s upset?’. Other places are cereal boxes, letters and cards that you get, street signs and billboards when you are out walking or driving. For older children who have started reading, you can point out words that don’t sound how they look , like enough in English. Think of examples in all of your languages and talk about them. Have conversations about the languages and how they are similar and different. So barn means child in Swedish, a farm building in English, and isn’t a word in Italian. There’s a different word in Italian.

Another thing you can focus on in a fun way with younger children is letter names and the sounds they make. I remember seeing a little boy at two and half years of age for a speech assessment and he knew all the names of the letters in the English alphabet and the sounds they made. Very impressive! We also had a gorgeous alphabet jigsaw in the shape of a crocodile and you can get lovely jigsaws with the letter and an example of words that start with the sound the letter makes. It might be difficult to get these in all of your languages, depending on what those languages are.  Also, for younger children where English is one of their languages, Sesame Street videos on YouTube are great for early literacy skills. Or Barney videos. The idea is that you watch these watch them together with your child and talk about what you’re watching and learning. You can talk about what you’re learning in the video about English using your home language if that works for you. That way you’re building connections between the languages. And you’re building metalinguistic awareness. That’s just a fancy term for being able to talk about languages using languages. And being able to reflect on what your languages are like.

How about sending postcards or cards to friends and family in the different languages? That way you get to weave in spoken and written language in a natural way. Your child can dictate the message to you and you can talk about what you’re writing and spell the words aloud for example. And you’ll be practicing reading when you get replies. As their own skills improve, they can do the reading and writing. Making their own book using free apps like Book Creator is a great way to support literacy and creativity with language.

Other important foundations for learning to are having a good vocabulary and story-telling ability. You can also focus on these without worrying about how to go about teaching your child to read like the teacher does in school. How do you focus on story-telling? There’s an approach called dialogic book reading where you use reading to together to build your child’s language. I’ve written two blog posts showing you how to do this and you can find them here and here.You can do this in your home languages. And here’s a post about developing your child’s vocabulary. Both of these will support your child learning to read in all of their languages.

Following their interest is important too. So, when my daughter was about three we had these magnetic letters and used to play a game where we’d get the letters and she would put random combinations together and I would try to pronounce them. She thought this was hilarious. It was great fun and it was teaching her about letters and sounds and what goes together or not. When children are learning to talk, they are learning the codes of their languages in spoken form. They’re working out which sounds belong to which language and which sounds go together to make syllables and words. Where words begin and end. How to combine words into phrases and sentences. You get the idea! When it comes to learning to read and write, our children are learning the written code. How to produce the words while reading aloud and writing.

Understanding what you read is a key component of learning to read. For example, I can ‘read’ Swedish, Italian, Spanish, French, Maori, Swahili, and Irish but my understanding of what I can ‘read’ varies wildly across those languages! So, at a surface level, I can decode the words and pronounce them properly but that’s only part of the story. I lack the vocabulary to understand much of what I could read. Learning to read takes time and every child is different. My daughter could read with clear evidence that she could understand what she was reading from about four years of age. So, she had the skills. But until our first lockdown in 2020, she was totally resistant to reading by herself. ‘It’s boring,’ she’d declare! I despaired of her ever loving to read and settled for being happy that she loved me reading to her and that she frequently saw me with my head stuck in a book! During lockdown, we found a Heidi that I had as a child and that was the start of her loving to read by herself. Following your child’s lead when it comes to nurturing reading means letting them pick the book, let them turn the pages, focus on talking about the book rather than on reading each and every word. During lockdown, my daughter and her friend had a story club where they met once a week via Zoom to read stories and poems that they had written during the week. Then they switched to reading to each other: a chapter of a book each. And then they sent voice recordings of themselves reading. All of these activities help literacy development.

Baker and Wright (2021) also make a key distinction between a skills approach to literacy and a critical literacy approach. So the skills approach is all about things like being able to read words (sometimes with understanding and sometimes not understanding what you’re reading), spelling words correctly, filling in worksheets, giving correct answers on spelling tests and so on. The critical literacy approach perspective is much broader and includes things like seeing yourself as an active reader and writer, enjoying reading, learning about the world through reading, reflecting on what you’ve read and the insights you’ve developed. That’s where I’d put my energy. Reading together and talking about what you’re reading. To encourage my daughter to read, I said I would read whatever she read so now I have a backlog of Judy Moody and Enid Blyton next to my bed! But we have great chats about characters and plots and what we liked and didn’t like about the books. And for younger children, drawing their attention to things like the font size, punctuation, and so on in a natural, ‘Isn’t that interesting?’ or ‘Did you notice that?’ kind of a way. You can also pay attention to how they’re being taught to read at school and see if there are any tips you can use in your chats about books in your home languages. Wordless picture books are useful when it’s hard to find books in your home languages. Here’s a list of 100 wordless picture books to give you inspiration.

I’ve been talking with a friend and colleague who works with children who struggle to read. We’re putting together more tips and you can read them in my next post. Later, I’ll go back to the research and see what else is there that might help.

If you liked this post, please share it with your friends!

Let’s get talking,










March 18, 2021
by Mary Pat
Comments Off on Does the speech & language therapist need to speak all of your languages?

Does the speech & language therapist need to speak all of your languages?

So your multilingual child is going to see a speech and language therapist (SLT) and you’re wondering if the SLT needs to be multilingual too. The short answer here is no. What the SLT needs to be is culturally competent. What does that mean? It means that they need to be up to speed on how speech and language development happens in multilingual children. To know about the different patterns of development depending on whether your child has been acquiring their languages from before age 3 and/or if they’re adding another language starting when they go to school. They need to know about the factors that influence speech and language development in multilingual children. That’s things like the amount of time your child has been exposed to their languages, the opportunities that your child has for using their languages, if the languages are similar like Italian and Spanish or different like English and Russian. They need to find about your languages: what are the speech sounds in the languages? What combinations of sounds are found in your languages? Like Russian and Polish have more complex consonant combinations (called clusters in SLT jargon) compared with English. They need to know about the grammatical systems of the languages. Things like in English, we put the subject first then the verb. Mary Pat ate cake. In Irish it’s the verb that comes first D’ith Mary Pat an cáca. This is important for making sense of the way your child uses their languages. They need to find out about your culture and what’s appropriate or not for your child’s situation. That means things like expectations about eye contact, play, gestures and so on.


A 2015 Australian study paper which collected data from 14 sites in 5 countries on 4 continents describes culturally competent speech and language therapy as:


#1 SLTs being aware of cultural and linguistic influences in children’s lives so that assessments of their speech, language, and communication strengths and needs are accurate and culturally sensitive


#2 using several sources of data in assessment to draw appropriate conclusions about whether or not your child has a speech, language, and/or communication issue. This means talking with you and other family members involved in your child’s life, their teachers, and so on.


#3 finding out about the impact of any speech and language issues on your child’s daily life by talking with you, your child, their teacher etc.


#4 collaborating with you and teachers to work out strategies that will support your child’s speech and language development and increase their ability to participate fully in their daily lives.

The SLT’s job is to work out if your child has a problem with speech and language or if the patterns they’re seeing are because your child hasn’t had enough time to get things straight in all of their languages. What kinds of problems are we talking about? Things like not pronouncing words clearly making it hard for people to understand what your child says. Not combining words by twenty-four months. Not understanding what is being said to them. Not initiating interaction with you. Stuttering. Having a hoarse voice. And many more. It’s a complex process to work out the nature of a child’s speech and language difficulties and it takes time. Just like speech and language development are complex processes that take years to evolve.

There are real challenges for speech and language therapists in terms of a general shortage of multilingual SLTs, a shortage of assessment and intervention resources in a wide range of languages, a lack of easy access to skilled interpreters, and not enough time allowed within the system for assessment of all of your child’s languages. Another issue can be organizational rules that SLT can only be delivered in English in some states in the US for example.

But there are enough resources out there to conduct an assessment and work out a plan on the basis of the information gathered. Of course, the ideal situation is where the SLT speaks the languages you need, has the requisite cultural knowledge for your situation, and has access to valid, reliable, and sensitive assessment measures and intervention materials for all of your child’s languages. In that Australian study, one of the SLTs spoke 10 languages well enough to allow her to deliver therapy in their home languages as well as focusing on the community language without having to rely on the services of an interpreter.

Alarms bells should ring if your SLT doesn’t ask about all the languages your child needs now and will need in the future and doesn’t ask in detail about who uses the languages with your child in what situations and for what purposes. When it comes to speech sounds for example, the SLT can work closely with you on sounds that are unique to your languages and unfamiliar to the SLT and difficult for him/her to pronounce. It’s a great opportunity for collaboration and for learning from each other. If the SLT tells you to drop one of your languages, then they are not following best practice guidelines or the research evidence. In that case, this blog post this blog post  will give you a range of ways to respond.

That 2015 Australian paper identified 6 Overarching Principles of Culturally Competent Practice for SLTs working with multilingual families. Here they are:


#1 identification of culturally appropriate and mutually motivating therapy goals meaning finding out what’s important and culturally relevant to you and your family when it comes to speech and language goals


#2 knowledge of languages and culture which means doing some research in advance about your languages and culture and talking with you about them too in order to find out more


#3 use of culturally appropriate resources meaning that they check with you if there are any items or pictures or activities that aren’t suitable


#4 consideration of the cultural, social, and political context including things like the policies of the system when it comes to the language of assessment and intervention


#5 consultation with families and communities which will vary from place to place in terms of how much and in what ways parents and communities are involved


#6 collaboration between professionals including SLTs, teachers, interpreters.


These are things to look out for when you meet the SLT. All of a multilingual children’s languages need to be taken into account across assessment and intervention. It’s not just about languages though, it’s knowing and finding out about culture too. And supporting your child’s current and future language needs.

Hope you found this post helpful and I’d be delighted if you passed it on to your friends.

Let’s get talking!


What I read so you don’t have to

 Verdon, S., McLeod, S., & Wong, S. (2015). Supporting culturally and linguistically diverse children with speech, language and communication needs: Overarching principles, individual approaches. Journal of Communication Disorders 58: 74-90.

January 20, 2021
by Mary Pat
Comments Off on Do Twins Have A Secret Language?

Do Twins Have A Secret Language?

Sorry it’s taken me so long to finish this three part series on language in twins. Snowed under while working from home and utterly exhausted before Christmas put a stop to my gallop! Back in action now and ready to go! We know that many things affect language development in twins: low birth weight, gender, genetic factors, the amount and quality of language input, less interaction with adults compared with children who are not twins, and intense interaction between the twins themselves. There’s a common belief that twins develop their own secret or private language called cryptophasia. Older research reports that twin language is unique for each set of twins and is not understood by others, including their parents. It has been reported to be used between twins in very specific situations such as playing together, in bed before going to sleep, and at meal time. And supposedly it tends to disappear by around age three. But what’s out there in the research about this? Once again, precious little it would seem…and a lot of it is quite dated. Let’s have a look at what I managed to dig up. I’ve kept the focus on the most recent research I could find with one exception.

First up is a 2013 study from Japan. The researchers looked at the relationship between twin language, twins’ close relationships (called close ties), and social competence. There were 261 twin pairs aged from 6-12 years included in the study. What did they find? I’m going to keep the focus here on twin language. They found that having an older sibling and attending preschool didn’t affect the close tie between twins, twin language, or social competence. One of their most important findings was that social competence was not directly affected by a close tie between twins. Social competence was affected when a twin language was found. Twins with a close tie were found to be more likely to have a twin language. The researchers claim that it’s possible that the twins’ close tie develops from birth to infancy, before the use of twin language. Their findings also suggest that twin language can influence social competence in school age children. Generally, it has been thought that intervention for twin language is unnecessary as most twin language tends to disappear spontaneously around age three. They found that twin language tended to emerge when one twin encouraged the other to use it and it had disappeared by age four. Twin language was used most frequently at age two. They also found that the twin language was made up of words and sentences from children’s TV programmes and adult conversations although the twins used them in their own, unique contexts.

Then I found a 2017 study from Lithuania which focused on one pair of twins: a boy and a girl. Their interaction was recorded two to four times a week in everyday situations for about one and half hours a month starting when they were two years and five months old. The summary of the study was in English and the whole paper was in Lithuanian which I can’t read! I’ve contacted the author for a summary in English and I’ll update the post once I have more details. The authors say that the results of their research “attest to manifestations of twin secret language, including the reaction of their parents”. That means they found evidence of twin language. They intend to carry out more detailed research in the future. Important to bear in mind here that the study only involves one set of twins.

Then I came across a 2017 book by Nancy Segal, Professor of Psychology at California State University, Fullerton and Director of the Twin Studies Centre. Here’s what she has to say: “Based on available studies, it is safe to say that about 40% of twin toddlers engage in some form of “twin-speak”. But that figure does not convey just how complex twins’ language development turns out to be.” When she delves more deeply into the issue of secret language, she says that it’s “differences in definitions, measurement methods, and the age at which twins are studied” that account for variations in the estimated frequency of twin language from “less than 2% to 47%”. She also points out that twins don’t produce a new language but that the private language is comprised of atypical forms of the language that they’re exposed to.


She goes into a lot of detail about distinctions between:

shared verbal understanding: speech used between twins also directed to other people even though it is unintelligible to these others and not ‘abnormal’ (her words!) in form.

private language : also unintelligible to others, and speech used exclusively within the twin pair. She reports that the “smaller number of twins (mostly male) at risk for language problems by the age of 6 are those who used private language at the age of 3 and did not develop normal language skills along with their private speech”

restricted language : ‘ordinary language dedicated to intimate communication between partners who share beliefs and expectations that come from a shared life history, and who use the same abbreviated expressions’. She gives an example from her own experience of talking about fried eggs that were not to her liking when she was a child. She would yell ‘gush gush’ and her mother would put them back in the frying pan. Her twin sister and herself still use the term today! This is just like the private jokes and made-up words shared in many families. So when thinking about twin language, it’s important to think about what we mean exactly.

Last up are two studies that looked in detail at the speech sound systems of multiple birth children (twins and triplets). The first one focused on English and the second one on Potunghua (an official language in China). They are quite dated in research terms (1994 and 2010) but I think they’re worth including here to give food for thought. Let’s start with the English one which involved 19 sets of two- to- four-year-old twins and triplets. They measured the children’s understanding of their twins’ or triplets’ context-free speech. They found that the children were prone to speech sound disorder. Siblings’ speech sound systems (the sounds they used when talking) were similar but not identical to each other. Multiple-birth children were better able to understand their siblings’ mispronunciations than other children of the same age. But that understanding did depend on how closely the mispronunciations were to the adult form. Multiple birth children may store two versions of how to say the same word: the adult form and their sibling’s form. That’s two sources of contradictory information that may give rise to unusual pronunciations. The researchers conclude that “while these three factors conspire to give the impression that ‘twin language’ is common, none of these findings provided support for the claim that multiple-birth children use an autonomous language”. Interesting…..


Several years later, one of the authors, Barbara Dodd and another colleague studied a set of identical twin boys who were six years and two months at the time of the study. The boys had no other siblings and were monolingual speakers of Putonghua. What did they find? The speech sound systems of the twins were not identical although they showed signs of impaired speech sound development and they shared some error patterns. They both understood their parents’ and their sibling’s pronunciations which again suggests a dual representation of some words in their mental dictionary. Same findings as for the English study six years previously. Important to remember though that there was only one set of twins involved in the Potunghua study


So that’s what some of the research says. There are lots of gaps there especially when it comes to recent research. What about your experience though?



What I read so you don’t have to

Balčiūnienė I. and Krivickaitė E. (2017) “Early language acquisition in twins: development and analysis of the Lithuanian Corpus”, Taikomoji kalbotyra, (9), pp. 31-45.

Dodd, B., & McEvoy, S. (1994) Twin language or phonological disorder? Journal of Child Language 21: 273-289.

Hayashi, C., Hiroshi, Mikami., Nishihara, R., Maeda, C., Hayakawa, K. (2013). The Relationship Between Twin Language, Twins’ Close Ties, and Social Competence. Twin Research & Human Genetics 17(1): 27-37.

Hua, Z. & Dodd, B. (2010) Phonological systems of a set of Potonghua speaking twins. International Journal of Language & Communication Disorders 35( 4): 487-506.

Segal, N. (2017). Twin mythconceptions: False beliefs, fables, and facts about twins. London: Elsevier.

September 28, 2020
by Mary Pat
Comments Off on Language Development in Multilingual Twins

Language Development in Multilingual Twins

My last post which you can read here is all about language development in monolingual twins. There isn’t a lot of recent research on that topic and there’s even less out there when it comes to multilingual twins. I kept my focus on recent research (within 10 years) and mainly published in scientific journals to keep it high quality. Here’s what I found out so far.


Most of the studies I came across were about trying to tease out the influences of genetics versus the environment when it comes to language acquisition. I couldn’t find very many studies looking at the twinning effect in multilingual twins. (That’s where twins experience a transient early language delay compared with children who are not twins) Children who are acquiring English as a second language seem to be the focus of a lot of the research, from Hong Kong in particular. However, if it’s true for monolingual twins that there is a twinning effect on language, then we can assume that it’s most likely similar for multilingual twins. The same factors will apply in terms of the significance of low and very low birth weights and prematurity. But additional significant factors for bilingual twins will be things like the amount of exposure to their languages, opportunities to use them, and when they started acquiring the two languages.


First up is a 2020 study of six to eleven year old twins from Hong Kong who were learning English as a language in school. The researchers were interested in answering this question: Does the twinning effect affect a home language and a second language vocabulary from middle to late childhood? (The twinning effect means a language delay compared to non-twin children and you can read all about it here.) They were also interested in the effect that competition for adult interaction and linguistic input at home might have on vocabulary in the second language. This study took place in Hong Kong where HK Chinese children usually learn most of their English vocabulary at school through direct instruction and in conversations with their teachers. Some exposure to English may happen at home but mostly they learn English at school. Learning English in Hong Kong starts at age 3 in kindergarten so by age 6 (which was the age of the younger participants in the study), children have had several years of formal teaching of English according to the researchers. (Of course your situation may well be different.)


352 children participated in the study. That group was made up of 176 girls having a twin brother or sister and 382 non-twin girls. Only one twin per pair was included in the study. They all went to the same primary schools in lower-middle & middle class neighbourhoods. In Hong Kong, over 90% of the population are ethnically Chinese and Cantonese is their language. The focus of the study was on vocabulary in the two languages. The twins and singletons were matched for their age, gender, the grade they were in at school, non-verbal intelligence, parental education, family income, number of siblings, and residents in the household.


According to the researchers, this is the first study of how twinning might affect the development of a second language.


These are the hypotheses (educated guesses) that the researchers were interested in testing:

# 1

Twinning negatively affects Cantonese and to a lesser extent, English vocabulary in 6- 11 year olds


The twinning effect is less on English vocabulary because interaction with parents at home (assumed to be the main factor for the twinning effect) is not the main way that the children learn English


The small twinning effect on English vocabulary is reduced even more when you take exposure to English at home into account.


So, what did they find? They found a clear twinning effect on Cantonese vocabulary knowledge at ages 6-11. The effect was seen in understanding vocabulary, naming or expressive vocabulary, and the ability to define what words mean. When it came to English vocabulary though the twinning effect was not as clear. The only significant twinning effect was found on expressive vocabulary. The effect on understanding English vocabulary was only marginal. And was not evident in the older children. The researchers also found that this twinning effect on the home language decreased as children got older and was weaker at age 8 years and 8 months. They put the twinning effect on the first language down to enhanced competition for parents’ attention. They came to that conclusion because the twinning effect was much less for the second language which was learned mainly at school and therefore much less affected by family interaction factors. And although the children learned most of their English at school, there was a relationship between their exposure to it at home, family socioeconomic status (measured by family income and education levels), and their English vocabulary knowledge. The same relationship was not found for Cantonese vocabulary which seems to suggest that English is learned more as an academic skill compared with Cantonese. But it’s not yet clear how exactly family socioeconomic factors may affect the acquisition of the second language in such a situation. Although when you think about it, it seems likely that where family education levels and incomes are relatively higher, then these families have more resources to spend; things like having more English themselves and confidence to speak it with their children or the ability to send children to schools with strong support for the second language.


As it turns out, Hong Kong is well-suited to research about language development in bilingual twins because Chinese and English are official languages and English is a compulsory subject in school as is Putonghua/Mandarin. Because English instruction begins relatively early at age 3, it’s possible to assess its development early on. Because of the status of compulsory English and Putonghua in primary school, it’s relatively easy to get a sample of twins that are very similar in terms of language education so like can be compared with like. And in a city with a population of about 7 million, there are 8 government-funded universities, one private university, and lots of researchers and schools willing to participate. Simpson W.L. Wong has been involved in a lot of pioneering twin research in Hong Kong, looking in particular at reading development.


What else did I find? Another study involving Simpson W.L. Wong from 2014 looking at the contributions of genes and environment on second language reading in children learning Chinese as their first language and English as their second. 279 Chinese twin pairs took part in this study. The average age of the children was six years. The language skills that the researchers were interested in were

  • visual word recognition,
  • receptive vocabulary (understanding single words),
  • phonological awareness (knowing what sound is at the start and end of a word for example, being able to generate lists of words that rhyme. Basically being able to manipulate speech sounds and syllables),
  • phonological memory (this has to do with language-related sounds and storing them in short term memory. Apologies to any psychologists here for the simplistic definition!)
  • speech discrimination (being able to recognise that pin and tin are different words).


A key question for the researchers was whether proficiency in the home/first language helps or hinders development of the second language. In their study, the two languages in question are very different. Their summary of other research suggests that the development of literacy is not hampered by the introduction of a second language. In fact, the research indicates that learning a second language and becoming literate in it may be made easier as children can detect similarities and differences between the languages. Meta-linguistic skills are important. That means knowing that languages differ in terms of their sounds, alphabets, sentence structure, where adjectives go, how you make plurals and so on. That’s a skill that starts to develop at around age five to six. The two languages support one another.


So what did Wong and colleagues find out? It’s complicated. I’m going to try

and keep it simple while staying true to what they found! They found:

  • moderate to substantial genetic effects on English as a second language visual word recognition, phonological awareness, and phonological memory
  • genetic factors play a major role in phonological awareness in English as a second language development
  • shared environmental factors are more important in contributing to phonological awareness in Chinese
  • strong genetic effects on English as a second language and Chinese visual word recognition in Chinese children which was consistent with past twin studies on children speaking alphabetic languages
  • significant shared environmental effects were found in English as a second language visual word recognition but not in Chinese visual word recognition. This points to the important role of a common environment in shaping the English skills. They put this down to the fact that there’s no standard curriculum and that wealthier parents can hire native speaking private English tutors or au pairs.
  • genetic factors play a major role in English as a Second Language phonological awareness, while shared environmental factors had a greater contribution in Chinese phonological awareness. This is a different pattern compared to visual word recognition and phonological memory. The researchers explain this finding by the fact that more variation exists in how children learn to read Chinese. They learn through two spoken languages: Cantonese and Mandarin/Putonghua. There’s no standardization of the spoken language used for teaching Chinese words. It’s different for English where (relatively speaking) there’s a more regular relationship between the letters and the sounds they make and a more standardised sound-based approach for teaching.
  • genetic factors played a more important role in Chinese phonological memory compared to that in English as a second language. The researchers think that this result is most likely related to the children’s environmental exposure to each language. In Hong Kong spoken Chinese is used daily but English not so much. Exposure to Chinese on a daily basis is pretty much equal across the children so any variation in their phonological memory for Chinese is down to genetic factors. When it comes to English in Hong Kong though, exposure is generally dependent on the school environment. And teachers in different schools teach it using differing methods. So variations in school practices are likely to contribute to the significant shared environmental influence on English as a second language phonological memory that they found in the study.


  • Common shared environmental factors across Chinese and ESL were found in receptive vocabulary and phonological awareness. These common environmental influences could be things like parent–child reading and parental instructions. For instance, parent– child reading together can enhance both Chinese and English phonological awareness in Chinese ESL children.


What about when the languages are more closely related and both languages are being acquired simultaneously? I came across a book chapter about the acquisition of speech sounds in bilingual English-Spanish speaking twin boys. I include it here because David Ingram, the first author is a well-respected researcher in communication disorders. So the researchers collected language samples in both languages from the boys when they were 18, 19, and 20 months of age. The researchers were interested in whether or not twin children show early separation of their speech sound (phonological) systems in the same way as monolingual children. Remember the twinning effect on language development in twins? It turns out the twinning effect also happens in speech development. But a lot of the research about this is old (and focused on monolingual twins). For example, research has found that that twins are delayed in relation to non-twins in their speech acquisition and that identical twins are more similar in their speech development than non-identical twins. Barbara Dodd and colleagues in Australia in the nineties found that twin speech sound systems are not only delayed but also show disordered features. When Ingram and his colleagues wrote this chapter in 2011, there had been no studies that found identical speech sound acquisition in twins. Case studies had actually shown how non-alike twins can be in their speech development. In the study by Ingram and colleagues, Leo & Simon were the boys who were growing up in Spain with a native English speaking mother and a native Spanish speaking father. The parents each spoke their native language to the twins. (It doesn’t say what language they spoke to each other in). The boys were studied from 12 months to 6 years of age with speech and language samples (30 minutes) recorded every two to three weeks. Each time they were recorded, they were recorded separately in Spanish and in English. The researchers looked at things like sounds at the beginning and ends of words, the number of syllables in the boys’ words, the different consonants and vowels they were using at the different ages and so on. To cut a long story short, the results of all the detailed analyses found that Leo’s and Simon’s speech development was not identical. Three of the 18 measurements that the researchers used showed similarities of less than 90%. The similarities between the languages were lower than between the children. Leo’s English and Spanish phonologies were 73% similar, and Simon’s were 68% similar. The bottom line? The children’s speech sounds systems, while they were highly similar, they were not identical. The researchers concluded that being a twin did not hinder the separation of the languages. They concluded that the results of their detailed speech analysis did not support the idea of a twining effect on speech development. They concluded that early language separation was taking place despite a presumed genetic tendency for the children to be highly similar to each other. But only two children were involved in the study so they couldn’t come to conclusions about things like whether or not the identical twins were more .similar than non-identical twins or non-twin siblings.

What’s the bottom line here? A lot more research needs to be done on language development in multilingual twins. Speaking two or more languages is not a problem; it doesn’t cause speech and language problems. Important influencing factors on language development for twins are prematurity and low birth weight + amount of exposure and opportunities to use their languages. Reading together is good for language development. The languages are separated from early on. The languages interact with each other. Speech development of twins is not identical.

In the final post in this series, I’m going to look at the idea of twins having a secret language and see what the research says.

Are you a parent of multilingual twins? Be sure and leave a comment below. I’d love to hear about your experiences!

Let’s get talking!


What I read so you don’t have to

Altman, C., Goldstein, S., & Armon-Lotem, S. (2018). Vocabulary, metalinguistic awareness, and language dominance among bilingual children. Frontiers in Psychology 9:1953: 1-16.


Ingram, D., Dubasik, V., Liceras, J., & Fuertes, R.F. (2011). 11). Early phonological acquisition in a set of English-Spanish bilingual twins. In Implicit & Explicit Language Learning Conditions, Processes, & Knowledge In SLA & Bilingualism. Leow, R. & Sanz, C. (eds). pp 195-215. USA: Georgetown University Press.



Antón-Mendez, I., Ellis, E., Coventry, W., Byrne, B., & Van Daal, V. (2015) Markers of success: a study of twins’ instructed second language acquisition. Learning & Individual Differences 42: 44-42.


Wong, S., Cheung, H., Zheng, K., Yang, X., Mc Bride, C. Suk-Han Ho, C., Leung, SM, Chow, B. , & Yee Waye, J. (2020) Effect of Twinning on Chinese and English Vocabulary Knowledge Child Development 1-12


Wong, S., Suk-Han Ho, C., McBride, C., Wing-Yin Chow, C. Yee Waye, M. (2017). Less is More in Hong Kong: Investigation of Biscriptal and Trilingual Development Among Chinese Twins in a (Relatively) Small City. Twin Research & Human Genetics, 20 (1): 66-71.


Wong, S., Wing-Yin Chow, C., Suk-Han Ho, C., Yee Waye, M., & Bishop, D.V.M. (2014). Genetic and environmental overlap between Chinese and English reading-related skills in Chinese children. Developmental Psychology 50 (11): 2539-2548