It seems to be a common belief that a baby begins talking later if he/she is learning a second language, and even later with a third one. King and Mackey have been talking about this popular misconception in their book “The Bilingual Edge” and found a reason for this prevalent myth: there is a great deal of variation in when children begin to speak. One child may utter the first word as early as eight months or as late as sixteen months. In other words, in any given group, children vary greatly in when to begin talking. However, if a bilingual child has a late start, the fact that the child is exposed to two languages is mostly blamed for his/her late first word.
So does learning more than one language make a late talker? In order to answer the question, in 1992, three scholars from University of Miami carried out a research which compared the lexical development of bilingual children and monolingual children (Pearson, Fernandez, Oller, 1993.) In this later widely-quoted study, they compared between 25 English-Spanish bilingual children and 35 English monolingual children ranging from 8-month to 30-month in age. The parents of the children were asked to complete questionnaires concerning the vocabulary their children could say. The result showed that bilingual children develop the same capacity in vocabulary development in both languages and they were almost in the same pace with monolingual children’s vocabulary development. In other words, there were no significant differences between bilingual children and monolingual children in their paces of accumulating new words.
Therefore, it is natural that children differ in their pace of language development. Being exposed to a second language does not impede children’s development in their first one. If language delay really occurs to a child, blaming bilingualism for language delay can block parents from seeing a variety of other reasons which may be responsible for the problem.
Pearson, B., Fernandez, S., Oller, D., 1993. Lexical Development in Bilingual Infants and Toddlers : Comparison to Monolingual Norms. http://scholarworks.umass.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1006&context=adjunct_sw
King, K., Mackey, A., 2007. The Bilingual Edge. Harper Collins: New York
-Chinese with Meggie Language School, Austin, Texas