Delays in Language Development: A Case of Twins and Multiples

       The most important developmental years is said to start from birth and on to the first 3 years of age.  This is also true for language development.  Monitor hearing is said to be crucial during the first eighteen months of life, mostly because of its direct relation to speech and language acquisition.   It is clear that all individuals are different and separate from one another, so the fact that all children learn at different rates is obvious.  It is also true for language.  Some children are fast language learners and some are slow.  With this notion in mind, it was interesting to learn that 30% of twins and multiples develop problems in communication.  There is speculation whether this is actually true and weather it is fair to compare language development of children.  However, studies show that twins and multiples are more susceptible to language delays and disorders.  Despite this, children of single birth are just as prone to language development as twins. The key differences between these developmental delays relate to biological and social factors.

          There is a popular notion that language delays and development are more prone to children of multiple births compared to single births.  When it comes to first words, twins are on average 6 to 8 months behind when compared to single children.  They also have a smaller vocabulary than their peers when entering school.  Comparing twins to single births, research observed twins as far as 2 years behind in language development by the time they’re the age of 5. This includes sentence length and grammatical categories.  As a result, at age 5 twins are likely to be still conducting phonological processes when their single birth children are beyond this stage.  At this time twins are processing their constant harmony: kitty-cat/ titty-tat, syllable deletion and cluster reduction spoon/ boon, and gliding liquids fish/ tish, leg/ weg.  With twins and other multiples being far behind the development of single birth child, they can often experience reading and spelling problems once they enter elementary school. 

       Other problems that arise in the language development of multiples are they’re unable to fully articulate words and self-expression.  Their sentences tend to be shorter as they are more likely to speak in baby talk longer than the average child.  An interesting fact is that multiples do not lack poor receptive skills in the area of understanding and comprehension. In this way, they understand terminology and basic vocabulary when verbally communicating with these children.  It indicates that delayed language development occurs in twins and persons of multiple birth is generated from their skills in speech and communication.  This disadvantage does not mean they have mental incapacities, disabilities, or challenges. This indicates that a speech delay or impediment is observed as seen in various studies comparing single and multiple birth children.   

        Although it is clear that multiples are likely to suffer from delays in language development, why are multiples more susceptible than single birth children? There are many factors that come into play when studying twins and their language development.  When researchers started implementing studies they first came to the conclusion that it is a general phenomenon, twins in general lag behind and held an impediment because they are twins.  From the 1970’s to the first part of 2000, researchers determined various factors that explain this slow rate of development. Biological factors include premature birth and birth complications associated with multiple births. Multiples are born prematurely at a higher rate because of the mother’s inability to carry to full term.  “Premature and low birth weight children are at increased risk of all kinds of complication including speech difficulties”, (Mohay, Burns, & Luck, 1986).  This study compared low birth weight twins to low birth weight single children.  The sample consisted of children from ages one month to 4 years.  They found “no significant language difference after the age of two.” It went on to show that the older the multiple, the increase in language development that eventually surpassed that of single birth children.  “By 4 years, twins were marginally above singletons on several measures”, (Mohay, Burnsm & Luck, 1986).   This indicates that when sampling low birth weight children, it is the single children who begin to lag in language development. Birth weight is not a determining factor of differences in language development in single birth and multiple birth children.

       Social factors also play a large role in the language development of twins and multiples that slow down their rate of verbal communication.  The main fact is that children of multiple births receive less speech contact with their parents or caretakers.  Parents are busy when caring for two or more children, especially of the same age.  It also means that parents have less time to help children develop communication skills. They are less likely to speak directly with their children for long periods of time when compared to single birth. These parents speak briefly with their children, using short and direct phrases.  Not conducting a lot of dialogue children plays a significant role. This makes a difference of communication when speaking with one child versus with both children at one time.  This social factor is not only seen in twins but it is noticed in large families as well.  It is because, “birth order is now known to be associated with language disturbances”.  With each additional child parents have the youngest should develop communication skills at a slower rate than their older sibling.  Another way to put this is that “the more older siblings you have, the lower your language development”.  A child with no siblings or the first born will more likely develop language skills at a faster rate.   In this way, birth order such as the case with multiple births may cause a developmental delay in communication and verbalization. The social factor is significant to the growing child. Consequently, researchers consider this a large factor in language development delays than biological ones.   

        It is argued that twin talk otherwise known as cyptophasia or indioglossia, occurs as a result of language delays. As a result, researchers sight no disclaimers with multiples who participate in this autonomous language. The different language that is developed or rather created by twins is not strict to this population. Although it is most commonly seen in twins, young school age children do this as well.  Single birth children will concoct a new language among their friends, cousins, or/and siblings. An example of this is Pig-Latin which is also considered an autonomous language.  Autonomous is defined as a variation or form of the language found in their environment.  It is most often a set of idiosyncratic manipulations of English; an example is to change the first letter of every word to f.  Surprisingly enough this secret language of twins is never fully developed and tends to be glorified and romanticized by literature on this phenomenon.  Twin talk is most often reinforced by their siblings. The more the multiples you have, especially identical multiples, the higher the probability they will create a new language amongst themselves.   

        There are common practices that someone could apply to prevent language development delays whether multiple birth or single.  Simple tools can be done to achieve this. Examples include teaching a child to rhyme words will encourage them to listen to sound structures and mimic them. To help children identify syllables and breaks, parents can encourage their children to clap in song or in speech. This will aid a child to develop their language skills as well as their pre-reading skills.  Reading to children on a regular basis will also help them develop communication and articulation of words, which will be useful in reading and writing.

       Multiples are very familiar with each other. They pick up on body language, wants, and nonverbal communication. Due to this, they do not require proper language to communicate with one another. With this ideology in mind, most assume this is why twins develop delays in language. Examples of this bond is demonstrated in twins when they complete each other’s sentences or speak the same phrase simultaneously. Despite the delay in language that is observed in children of multiple births, research indicates that multiples catch up to their peers by age 9.  As observed, the factors that delay language development can be seen in all children and not just those of multiple births.   It is not unique to families of twins and multiples. It is also observed in low birth weight children and children in large families, who may also display language delays. However, other studies indicate that in many ways children of multiple birth surpass single birth children.  For instance, twins pick up the I, me, mine ability a lot faster than those of a single birth.  Although these children have language delays it is not significant nor long lasting. Eventually, these children reach and meet their milestones in communication and language. A language delay can be observed, helped, and treated allowing them to talk and verbalize alongside their peers without barriers.





         Ielligence, Language, Nature, and the Nurture in Young Twins. J. Steven Reznck. Intelligence, Heredity, and Environment. Cambridge University Press. (1996)

        Are Twins Delayed in Language Development? Jennifer Ganger. The MIT Twins Study (1998)

        More the Merrier- Language Development in Twins, Tripplets and Higher Multiples. Paula Moss(1998)

       Twins. Development and Language. Caroline Bowen. (1998)


About Russia Robinson

I use my writing talents, and skills I’ve learned through academics and experience, to benefit the greater good of society. Conducting research, writing articles, essays, and blogging, I give informative information on a variety of topics and issues that affect society. I also write creative works like children’s books, short stories, poems, and a novel in progress. I earned a BA in English creative writing and American literature from San Francisco State and graduate studies in Technical Writing at Kennesaw State University. Through my career in education and mental health I have spent more than 10 years’ helping young people succeed. I am a certifiable Language Arts teacher, working in education, social services, and mental health. Interested in my writing services? Feel free to contact me via email.
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