Speech and language: When to worry

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Learn about what signs to look out for to help make decisions about whether to seek a professional opinion about your child's language development.

Key points

  • There are signs to look out for when your child is two years old that will help you make a decision about whether they need help with speech and language development.​
  • Problems with language need to be addressed early. If they are not addressed they can lead to problems with listening and reading comprehension.

There are a number of markers you can watch for to help make decisions about whether to seek a professional opinion about your child’s language development.

Some of these markers are:

  • very few words by two years corrected age or if all of the words are from one category, such as labels for objects
  • indistinct, garbled speech after three years of age
  • trouble learning words to songs, nursery rhymes in preschool
  • difficulty expressing thoughts after three years of age
  • limited vocabulary: trouble finding exact labels, says “thing” a lot
  • uses immature forms of grammar longer than expected (e.g., “I goed to the park”) in kindergarten; often mixes up word order in a sentence
  • trouble answering “why” questions in kindergarten
  • trouble retelling a familiar story in kindergarten

Effect on learning in the classroom

If your child is having speech or other language problems, it is highly recommended that they enrol in a school that teaches their first language. If your child has a speech or language problem and they have to learn a second language, they may become frustrated and are likely not to succeed.

In the classroom, language problems usually become apparent when the child has:

  • trouble understanding instructions
  • trouble understanding new concepts

When problems with language are not attended to early, they can lead to negative effects on listening and reading comprehension in later grades.

A limited vocabulary and poor understanding of grammar can lead to:

  • a limited understanding of ambiguous terms and statements, for example “The bat flew through the air”
  • problems understanding figurative language, for example, “it’s raining cats and dogs”
  • difficulty making inferences, for example: “The little girl looked at the grass and sighed. The ground was white when she looked out the next morning. What happened?” Problems making inferences will limit the child’s ability to draw conclusions about what they are reading.
Last updated: October 31st 2009