True or False? The Top 10 Assumptions about Early Speech and Language Development

Do you ever wonder if girls really do talk earlier than boys?  Or if when grandma says using a pacifier will create speech problems later, you should believe her?

Below are some common assumptions about young children’s speech and language development, and whether or not they’re true or false.

1.  You should never use “baby talk” with babies


Baby talk, also known as “infant-directed speech,” refers to the very recognizable speech patterns people use when speaking to babies.  Baby talk has a higher-than-normal, more varied pitch, a simpler vocabulary, a slower rate of speaking, emphasis of important words, an exaggerated, positive facial expression, and lots of repetition.

Babies prefer “baby talk” as it helps them pay closer attention to speech.  It makes it easier for them to figure out how language works and which words are most important to the meaning of what’s being said.  Thus, don’t be afraid to use baby talk – it’s helping your baby tune into you and the meaning of what you’re saying.

2.  Using “educational” products, such as DVDs or flashcards stimulates young children’s language development


-Baby DVDs

Several DVDs geared towards infants and very young children have been released in recent years with the aim of furthering babies’ development, including their language skills.  However, research to date has not provided evidence these products produce better language skills.


Learning a new word from a flashcard teaches a child to say a word in response to a picture.  It does not, however, mean that the child will understand the full meaning of the word or how to use it in real-life situations.  Rather, new vocabulary has to be learned in interactions during everyday life and repeated many times before becoming part of a child’s vocabulary.

3.  Using a pacifier causes speech and language problems 


The jury is out on this one.  Prolonged pacifier use is linked to dental problems and increased ear infections, both of which can have a negative impact on speech and language development.  However, several recent studies examining the pronunciation of children with prolonged pacifier use found no difference with the control group.

The jury is still out about this issue, but most professionals agree that a child’s opportunities for imitating sounds, babbling, and engaging in conversations are limited if she or he has a pacifier in the mouth much of the time.  In coherence with this concept, reducing pacifier use may be recommended by speech-language professionals.

4.  Speaking “telegraphically” helps young children learn to talk 


Telegraphic speech is using only content words and little or no grammar.  For example, “Where spoon?” (instead of “Where’s your spoon?”).  There is a belief that telegraphic speech makes it easier for babies to learn to talk because it allows them to hear only the important words in a sentence.  But experts disagree.

Telegraphic speech may hinder children’s understanding of word meanings and grammar as it eliminates the helpful clues and information that come from grammatical speech.  For instance, babies know that words which end in “-ing” are verbs, which makes it easier to figure out the word’s meaning.

So when you use baby talk, just make sure it’s grammatical.  Try to use short phrases with proper grammar.

5.  Second- and third-born children are late to talk because their older siblings do the talking for them 


Studies have shown that the language development and skills of first-born and later-born children are similar.  In fact, some studies have shown superior skills in later-born children in the areas of conversational skills and pronoun use.  While older siblings often interrupt and talk for their younger siblings, this does not appear to have a negative impact on the younger sibling’s development.

6.  Boys talk later than girls 


Boys do produce their first words and sentences later than girls.  The differences, however, are only in a terms of a matter of months.  Boys are not delayed in their language development, they’re just a little behind girls.

7.  More boys have language delays than girls 


It is proven that there are definitely more boys than girls with language difficulties.

8.  Twins are at greater risk for language delay


Twins, particularly male twins, have a higher risk of language delay.  The language delay is usually mild, and seems to reduce by middle childhood.  While not all twins have language delays, they are at greater risk for language delays.

9.  Learning two languages at the same time (bilingualism) causes language delays in young children 


Children who learn two languages at the same time will go through the same developmental patterns in both of their languages and at roughly the same time as children learning one language.  Sometimes young children learning two languages mix words or grammar from their two language, but this is very normal and does not indicate the child is having difficulty with language learning.

10.  Late talking children, who are otherwise developing normally, always “catch up” to other children their age 


Studies show that approximately 40-50% of children who are late to talk do not catch up on their own.  Even when late talkers appear to catch up to other children their age, they are still at greater risk for difficulties with reading.

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