Guidelines to language development
Thread poster: BensMum

Sep 20, 2006


Can anyone tell me how many words trilingual children should be able to use by what age?

My son I now realise is slow, as he is 3.5 and speaks only 2-wd sentences, and not many. He mainly speaks his own "language" no one understands.

My 20-mth daughter has already started speaking 2-wd sentences, is that normal, slow, fast??

Do we have to make special efforts to talk and read more to our children to speed up the learning process because they are tri-lingual? We both do not read alot to our kids, nor talk to them more than the usual "domestic" stuff. As we do not understand our son's explanations, it is hard to pursue a conversation after the first question! My husband is not a talker and I do most of the talking in the couple!

We use the OPOL method. We have never really given much thought to the consequences of raising our children in a multi-lingual environment. Its just been natural for us to speak to them in our native language. But now I´ve read forums where most multi-lingual kids are speaking by three yrs, so maybe we are not making enough effort to support our kids!

Thanks for any advice.


Natasha Dupuy  Identity Verified
Local time: 02:44
French to English
Slow? Sep 20, 2006

Hi Gwendolyne,

In your last post you mentioned you had made an appointment with a specialist - I think you should not worry yourself too much before speaking with them.
My sister has 4 children. Her 3rd daughter just didn't want to start talking and by about age 3.5 they started worrying that she might be mentally retarded. Not so at all, it turns out she just didn't feel like talking.
Eventually she started and now she speaks perfectly and we even have trouble shutting her up!
And she only had one language to contend with!
When is your appointment? Can you move it forward?


Tina Vonhof
Local time: 18:44
Member (2006)
Dutch to English
+ ...
Relax Sep 20, 2006

As a mother of two bilingual children and grandmother, with a background in psychology, my advice is to relax. There are no rules for how many words a child should use at what age. Each child is an individual and will develop at his/her own pace. They tend to do things when they are ready. Don't compare your child with other children and particularly not with siblings. In my opinion three languages is one too many and may contribute to your child being a little slow. You might want to ask yourself how important this really is.

Having said that, I think talking with your child and reading to him is definitely beneficial, not only for language development but also for your relationship. Children thrive on time attention from their parents. Point to objects or pictures in books, say the name and encourage him to repeat it. React with pleasure and praise when he does. After a while proceed to two-word combinations and then to short sentences. Enjoy spending time with your child instead of worrying about whether or not he 'measures up'.


Heinrich Pesch  Identity Verified
Local time: 03:44
Member (2003)
Finnish to German
+ ...
Talk as much as possible to him in your native language Sep 21, 2006

You actually do not have to train your child, in this respect a disagree with Tina. In fact children re-invent each language they acquire and so every generation creates a new language, that's how our languages slowly evolve. Later at school teacher try to reverse this process by teaching the rules someone invented 100 years ago.
The fact that the child has created a language of his own may mean, that he is especially gifted. Why don't you try to learn this language on your turn, at least some words?


Babelfischli  Identity Verified
Local time: 02:44
French to German
+ ...
strength and weaknesses Sep 21, 2006

Hi Gwendolyn,

Maybe your first son is more the "physical" type? I have observed in my own and friends' children that often a child that walks early, moves about alot etc. is slower to start talking. On the other hand, "lazy" kids are often early talkers. I agree with both Tina and Heinrich, if that is possible. You can encourage your son to talk more, but it shouldn't become an exercise for him.



Catherine Reay  Identity Verified
Local time: 02:44
Member (2004)
Spanish to English
+ ...
the sum total of the three languages Sep 21, 2006

Hello Gwendolyne,

About a year ago I was told by my daughter's doctor to take into account that if by age X a child should be saying 20 words (for example), those twenty words is the total of all the languages to which the child is regularly exposed.

So, I wrote a list of all the words Gina used at that time from all 3 languages and realised that actually she was saying far more words than it appeared. For example, Gina could say "water" in the 3 languages and that counts as 3 different words.

Bear in mind as well that in the school environment perhaps your son's teacher does not understand English/Spanish and, therefore, when your son uses vocabulary from those languages the teacher does not understand - but that is not your son's problem!! In a short space of time he will pick up the best word to use in order to get what he wants/needs by copying his classmates.

With my daughter I find that picture books with no words are the best way to stimulate our "conversations" as it allows her to take control depending on whether today she wants to "talk about" the elephant (which is big, grey, has a tail/trunk, four legs, makes a funny noise - Daddy is needed for that! etc) or the little girl (body parts often leading to the song "heads, shoulders, knees and toes" which can be a giggle as you sing it faster and faster).


I have just had time to read through all the answers on your previous thread and have realised that Anne Patteet mentioned the language capacity being divided between all the languages. I just want to acknowledge that.

Also, I recommend the new Penelope Leach Guide to Your Baby and Child as being a very sensible, down-to-earth guide for parents. Page 503 lists just a few reasons for slow language development, which I found helpful. If you would like to discuss the list feel free to contact me through my profile.


[Edited at 2006-09-21 19:50]

Also a BensMom Sep 21, 2006

I'm the mother of a grown up Ben, who is 2 1/2 lingual (2 languages and one dialect). He was slower to speak and less articulate then the monolingual kids his age. Science and nature are his elements. He is now doing medicine.

Perhaps your Ben also sees his Dad as a role model and this is one more reason for not being very interested in speaking.

If his behaviour is normal, don't worry - my boy just pointed to what he wanted, and that worked. On the other hand, seeing an expert - or your pediatrician and putting YOUR mind at ease, is very very important.

Best wishes


mireille aboumrad  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 20:44
Member (2005)
French to English
+ ...
Understanding is key Sep 23, 2006


I agree with Linda about seeing an expert, from personal experience, I can tell you this: Do no worry about the spoken language that much, what you need to focus on is how much he understands what is said to him, I was reassured by many people when my son was not talking at the age of 2 and 3, but I always felt something was not right, because he couldn't understand simple requests. As it turned out he is autistic. He improved a lot though, with therapy and hard work.
Please do not think that I am making any diagnosis here, just don't put off seeing a specialist.

Hope that helps.


More physical Sep 25, 2006

Yes Ben has always been more physically active and can climb structures others his age cannot. I realise he also has good visual memory & everyday we are surprised just how much he understands all three languages.

We make an extra effort to speak to him and read to him and since his sis is more into books, sibling rivalry motivates him to want to look more at books too!

The visit with the specialist is in afew days time and I myself am curious to see how he responds to these french tests.
Will update qfter the visit but thanks again for sharing your experiences and your support. Catherine has also given me ideas on how to better "speak" to my children - "yes its a tractor which is red and has big round wheels... "instead of just "yes it's a tractor"!


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