Multiples and Speech and Language Development

MBSA wishes to thank Rachel Althorp, TALK Speech Pathologist for preparing the following article.

People often say that “twins talk late – all twins are like that” or “all twins have a special language”. 

Research from around the world suggests that while the majority of twins develop language skills appropriately, “the consensus in the literature seems to be that being a twin does in fact make a child more prone to language delays and disorders due to several biological and social factors. Furthermore, most studies show twins catching up to their singleton peers on standardized language tests during early childhood”. (Jennifer Ganger, Harvard University)

So why is it that more twins have speech and language problems than single children? Caroline Bowen, Speech Pathologist noted on her websitethat this “is because twins are frequently premature or low birth weight babies, and their parents may have less time to attend to them individually and to help them develop verbal skills”.

So, what is late talking? Research suggests that by the age of two a child should be saying at least 20 words and usually up around the 100 word mark. Children should also be starting to join two words together (e.g. “more drink”). At two, it’s okay if a child’s talking is not clear and easily understood by everyone. Some sounds develop when children are older.

What about “twin talk”. On her website, Caroline Bowen writes about how some twins develop their own language. She states that “recent research in Australia and overseas suggests that twin language is most often seen in twins with immature or disordered language”. She noted a British study that “showed that twin language is higher (around 50%) in twins with speech and language difficulties than for twins with normal language (11%)”. 

Speech and language delay is a strong predictor of reading and spelling problems at school so it’s important to get help as quickly as possible. While some children will catch up spontaneously, many don’t.

So what can parents do?

  • When possible, find/make times to listen and talk to one child at a time–maybe employ the use of a grandparent or aunt etc. An option might be to take one child to the shop while the other child/children stay home with the other parent or a carer.
  • Don’t let one twin speak for both
  • Encourage each child to wait for the other to finish speaking
  • If concerned take their child/children to see a speech pathologist for an assessment. 

Speech pathologists can provide ideas and suggestions, monitor development or provide therapy if needed.