2 Year Old Has No Interest in Speaking

Q. I have a two year old son who seems to have no interest in speaking. He rarely says "Mama" or "Papa" (Spanish) and even refuses to repeat these words. From time to time, hetoddler won't speakintroduces a new word , but he will not repeat it if we try to have him say it again. For example, a few weeks ago, I asked where his grandmother lived and he told me "there" pointing at the building. He repeated it several times but now he refuses to say it again. Sometimes he laughs when I try to have him repeat a word but sometimes he starts crying. I am very worried about his behavior. Now he repeats more and more syllables, but without meaning or connections. He also likes to sing. And he says "no" to any of our proposals.

When he want something he just points at it and makes a kind of "uh uh uh." According to the tone he uses, we know what he wants.

I know he understands everything we tell him, both in Spanish and in French (I'm French and I often talk to him in this language). He carries out any order you give him and identifies the different objects n the house and in the street. He also likes music a lot (especially classical music).

He is a very active and social boy. He has just started going to a kindergarten school and has had no problem from the very first day. Now I am having his language evaluated. I would be very grateful if you could give me any advice.

Christine Mazeau (Spain)

A. It is obvious that you have concerns about your young son's development of language. I think it is a wise decision to have his skills evaluated by a professional. As your son have been exposed to two languages, it would be appropriate to have him evaluated in both languages. This may be accomplished by a bilingual speech/language pathologist or a speech/language pathologist who has knowledge of the rules and structures of both languages with the assistance of a translator.

What a wonderful advantage your son will have if he is able to understand and speak both French and Spanish. Recent scientific studies are telling us that exposing a young child to a foreign language actually stimulates brain development. Although, many experts agree it may take longer for a child who is exposed to two languages at an early age to begin talking, usually by age three, most will learn to use both languages without a lot of effort. When your young son begins to say words and sentences, he may go through a period of mixing the two languages and begin to use vocabulary from both languages in the same sentences. He may also not have equal skills in both language as it is common for there to be more understanding than actual use of one language.

To make learning easier, experts believe you should expose your child to a consistent pattern. Allow him to associate each language with different people, places, and situations. "One person, one language" is recommended, where each parent uses a different language with the child, or one language is used in the home and another outside the home. It is important to choose a consistent pattern that is easy for your family to adopt. Experts believe this method creates less confusion between the two languages.

I am glad that your son is able to understand language, and that you are so "tuned in" to his verbal requests. This will certainly reduce his frustration. You may begin to see his need and desire to communicate explode as he continues in the kindergarten school program. However, your son will continue to need a lot of stimulation in both languages. He must hear a word many times and understand its meaning before he will use words in a meaningful way. Instead of asking him of lot of questions or requiring him to repeat what you say, you should talk to him often. Put your thoughts and actions into words, and tell him what you are seeing, doing, thinking, and touching as you go about your daily life activities. Use short simple phrases and sentences. Name items to teach him about word labels, or nouns. ("Hat," This is your hat.") Describe objects by telling him about the colors, shapes and sounds you are seeing, hearing, and touching. ("Listen to the loud airplane.") Use comparing to teach him about how objects, events, and people are the same or different. ("See the big dog. Our dog is little.") Explain what you are doing first, next and last to teach him about time and logical order. (First, I put on your coat, next your hat." Use action words and talk about how things that go together so he will learn to make associations between the words he already knows and new words he is learning. ("We use soap to wash out hands.") Words are not learned in isolation but as part of the flow of phrases and sentences.

When your young son points to the juice and says "uh uh uh", model the correct words for him. "I want juice." Point to your mouth so that he sees how your tongue and lips move to make sounds. Play with sounds. Push toy cars around and say "vrroom." Bake cookies together and say "mmmm." Blow bubbles to help strengthen his lips and say "pop." Look into a mirror together and make faces and sounds for him to imitate. When he makes a sound, be quiet, listen, and then respond. Say the same sounds and add another. This will help him expand his babbles into "real" words and let him know you approve of his talking and enjoy communicating with him.