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Are Multilingual Children Late Talkers?


N (28_female_UK)

Reply Date

Jan 15, 2018


As-Salamu `Alaykum. I am writing to you regarding my son who turned 4 years last month. I am concerned about his speech and cognitive development. I am not sure if he falls within normal range or not. First, his verbal skills are slow. He speaks or tries to speak 3 languages (mine, my husband's and English). He can form sentences and carry a short conversation, but it's sometimes hard to understand him, and sometimes he speaks in broken sentences. When I see other kids fully conversing, I feel that he is really late. I feel it is affecting his understanding of the world around him as sometimes he may not apprehend everything that is being said around him. He started Pre-K (kindergarten) this year, and I am so much under stress with the fear that he may get labeled, or not socialize properly. I took him to a speech therapist last year who told me that his pronunciation is fine, I just have to read to him more. I spoke with his doctor and she didn't give me lot of response. For the abilities of a 4-year old, does this fall within the realms of acceptability? Jazakum Allahu khayranfor your advice.



As-Salamu `Alaykum,

I have read your concerns regarding your son’s reading and speaking development. Based on this information, my conclusion is that your son is learning at his own pace. However, you have different expectations from a four year old, and it is your anxiety which has made it more difficult for your son to relax and practice his language skills. To compare him to other children is not the best possible way to measure your own child’s development. This approach of the parents has a negative effect on nurturing a child and helping him to achieve his potential given to him by Almighty Allah.

As a parent, you can facilitate the process with a positive approach. Let us assume that even if he is not doing as well as the other children, his efforts should be recognized and in time in sha’ Allah, he will master the several languages he is exposed to naturally. But if you are nervous, anxious, critical, or negative, then you are setting the stage for him to fail. He is not a learning machine; he is a child of four, a human being with emotions and feelings and with his own way of learning and relating to his environment. Allah has created us all as an individual; we are not like everyone else and our environment is very important.

Here is what I want you to try:

1) Pray to Allah consistently to give you patience. It is the most important ingredient in helping him grow both mentally and physically as well spiritually.

2) Thank Allah for giving you a healthy child, I presume that he is, since you have said nothing about his mental or physical health. Is he a happy child or a sad child? Does he get frustrated quickly? Does he sleep well? Can he concentrate? These are very important aspects of his entire personality.

3) Praise him for his efforts, right or wrong. He must have the confidence to try to learn and speak.

4) You must remember he is only four years old. He can be positively influenced in learning not only reading and speaking, but also in social skills that are just as important.

5) Read to him stories every night and every morning; stories which are interesting, simple, with lots of pictures. Chose only one language for reading, and gradually you can introduce other languages. Your husband should take turns in reading and conversing with him. He is four, and at this age they have an amazing imagination, therefore encourage him to make up his own stories. There are many interesting stories in the Qur’an.

6) Teach him to say in sha’ Allah I can do it when he forgets words. It just gives him a positive boost. This works with my grandson, who is also four.

7) Do not let him know about your intense anxiety, only about his success. You are his mother; as such he relies on your positive feedback at all times. When you are positive, his whole world is a happy place. Finally, you need to shift your focus from your son’s reading and speaking to memory and learning. You need to nurture his confidence in his abilities and skills through reading to him, and helping him to talk to you and his father. I hope in sha’ Allah this will help.

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