Speaking Perfectly

In the comments to my most recent post, Delays in Multiple Languges Bernicy said:

sometimes I think we are going overboard with making our children speak perfectly. All these speech therapies for so many children just because they have a bit of problem saying some sentences or pronouncing some words. So what if the child isn’t speaking perfectly or doesn’t know the proper grammar? As long as the child gets his point across I think it is great. Afterall, many adults can’t speak properly either but that doesn’t mean they can’t make a good living or be productive; it just means they won’t be great public speakers. They can still communicate their meanings across one way or another and I think that’s good enough and important enough. The problem is that people do not communicate; not not speaking perfectly while trying to communicate.

“So what if a child isn’t speaking perfectly or doesn’t know the proper grammar?” The issue isn’t speaking perfectly, in fact far from it. This is not finishing school to polish off a diamond, it is making a round wheel out of a square one.

“The problem is that people do not communicate”. Imagine how frustrating when you DO communicate, and your mom doesn’t understand you half the time, your daycare workers understand you perhaps 10 percent of the time, and have to guess from your single word utterances exactly WHAT you are trying to say about that topic, and your grandparents and neighbors understand you none of the time. Imagine when you talk on the phone, your mom has to take the other line and translate everything you say, even when you are coming up on five years old and speaking the same language as the person you are trying to talk to.

Now imagine that you don’t pronounce half of every word, and leave out all verb tenses, possessives, articles etc. And then imagine how well you will do in school in the next couple of years. Sounding out letters in a word when you never say those sounds. Trying to write when you can’t speak a sentence. Trying to do show and tell in class, or participate in a discussion when you answer in single words and not sentences.

I’d rather catch up when it is still games and silliness to work on what he is severely behind on than when he is old enough to realize how much better the other kids speak at school, how behind he is in language skills and failing in his classes, teased by other kids. (and yes, it is learning delays, as he has had ample opportunity to hear and use the languages… 18 month olds speak more fluently than he does).

I agree that it is ridiculous to expect preschoolers to speak perfectly, to enunciate like eight year olds, to give speeches as though they were theatre majors. But I also think it is good parenting to be concerned when a child is a year or more behind in language skills and not catching up despite tons of stimulation. Language skills are the basis of all literacy and literacy is the basis of all schooling. I have done volunteer work with adults who lacked literacy and it is disheartening how handicapped they are in their personal, social and professional lives, often being confused by simple things like written rules at their child’s school or negotiating a lease, and being blocked from employment they would enjoy, stuck in manual dead end jobs.

It is easier to catch learning and developmental problems in toddlers and preschoolers than try to do remedial work when a child is school age, or worse, adult. They learn faster, they have less emotional baggage because of it, and fewer bad habits (ie it is harder to get a child to revise a word they have been saying badly for several years than it is to get that child to say a new word that has the same difficult sounds). And you are avoiding all the academic problems which will stem from it if you can deal with it pre school-entry. That gives me less than six months for Big Boy. And he will be going to school in French, not his stronger English, so he is confused by basic directions, negative sentences etc on TOP of his regular speech delays.

And frankly, when three separate speech therapists, none of whom have a financial stake in evaluating him as needing services since the child will be treated elsewhere, evaluate a child as severely delayed, it is sticking one’s head in the sand to think said child is “doing just fine”.

So, thanks for the lack of concern, but I would rather a congratulations for early diagnosis and actively seeking timely intervention.


2 responses to “Speaking Perfectly

  1. I’m sorry if some of us misunderstood. Big boy is starting from a difficult place. The one thing in his favor is a mom who’s determined to do the right thing for him. I know it’s difficult and frustrating – and you clearly know how important it is. Good for you BOTH!

  2. Here is a resource that might be helpful to you ( he also has some great resources for raising bilingual kids):


    Good luck with your process! We are also raising a trilingual from birth ( we are monolinguals) so know it is a challenging & long haul road.

    We did not run into language problems, but we also had the advantage that we started when babies first begin to learn language …in the womb.

    Languages are living things, so only so much time in a day. Almost never is a bilingual or trilingual equally fluent in each language.

    We focused on English the most since that is our mother tongue and an important universal language. Then Spanish because both parents speak some of that ( dad ONLY talked to her in Spanish for the first 2 1/2 years and spent a lot more time with her than most dads as he worked from home & it was a priority) & it resources were easily available like playgroups for native Spanish speakers, child care with native speakers etc.

    Although she was quite fluent in Mandarin by 2 1/2 we pulled back just because of time concerns as she also started violin & piano very early and everything needs daily practice/immersion. We chose not to send to immersion Mandarin school because adding time for both Spanish & Mandarin seemed too much since we parents are so limited in both & the school was an hour away.

    I had read that it is best to read first in the most dominant language & luckily our child was an early reader who taught herself.

    She was fluent in Spanish, but really got so much better when we immersed her in a school in Spain for the last 4 winters which led to very deep proficiency in reading & writing along with speaking.

    Now that she is extremely fluent in both English & Spanish, we are working on the Mandarin & she will immerse for a few years in an all Mandarin school in Asia.

    Good luck with your process!

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