Young bilingual children have a heightened risk of stuttering, according to a new study. These children also have less chance of recovery from stuttering than monolingual speakers who stutter.
Bilingualism is considered a risk factor for stuttering, Dr Peter Howell, of University College London, and colleagues point out in the Archives of Disease in Childhood, but "there is little information about how a second language affects the chances of stuttering onset and of recovery."
Howell and colleagues studied a total of 317 children between the ages of eight and 12 years who stuttered. The 69 children who were bilingual were matched to a group of fluent bilingual controls.
Of the 38 bilingual children who used a language other than English at home, 36 stuttered in both languages, the researchers report. Two of the 38 children stuttered in their native language
, but did not stutter in English.
What the study found
Fewer children who used their alternative language exclusively at home and learned English in school stuttered, compared with those who used both languages at home – 40% versus 60%, respectively.
By contrast, fluent bilingual controls were more likely to speak their alternative language exclusively at home – 74% versus 26%, respectively. The difference between bilingual stutterers and bilingual fluent speakers who spoke only their original language during their preschool years was statistically significant.
The recovery rate for children who spoke both languages at home prior to school age was 25%, compared with 55% in both the alternative language exclusively and monolingual speakers. However, Howell's group also found that early school performance was not affected by stuttering.
"Together, these findings suggest that if a child uses a language other than English in the home, deferring the time when they learn English reduces the chance of starting to stutter and aids the chances of recovery later in childhood." – (Reuters Health, January 2009)
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