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Kari Fisher

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Hi, I used to post and read others posts here many years ago before I discovered my baby had developmental delays.  Many years later, and after founding Development Delays Inc., a nonprofit for developmental delays (, I find it very controversial in my circles about the appropriateness of exposing a child to a 2nd or 3rd language.  Most of the world is multilingual, and I cannot imagine that when children with developmental disabilities are born in multilingual countries that the world stops and foreign languages/dialects are no longer spoken around that child.  It seems that there must be some literature on this.  Up to 15% of children have a language delay (expressive language disorder specifically), and up to 3-5% of children have mixed expressive and receptive language disorder, which is what my daughter has.  And while we have held back on foreign languages in general, we did not stop completely exposing her to foreign language.  But now, she asks to watch her brother’s foreign language DVDs (Muzzy, Little Pim, etc.) and sits through the whole thing and asks for another, even though her conversational skills in English, her native language, are first coming in.  All that I have found thus far is The Multilingual Mind.  There is a chapter about foreign language acquisition in children with Down Syndrome, dyslexia, and deafness.  If anyone knows of any literature about foreign language acquisition in children who have a learning, language, or other developmental challenge or disability, I would love to hear about it.  Some people believe (generally in monolingual societies) that we should not let this segment of the population be exposed to a foreign language, and I just intuitively do not think this is right.  Any information that you may have in this regard would be so greatly appreciated.  Thank you.  Kari Fisher  

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Hi Kari!
I agree with you, and feel similarly, also intuitively.  Although my child has not had language delay, her father’s sister has a genetic disorder by which she will never speak, and I often ponder this question when we visit and speak in our other language in her company.  Theirs is a multilingual household.  Having said that, I’ve also thought about language registers, and so even monolingual children are often exposed to formal and informal registers of language to various degrees. That in itself might be an interesting or necessary study.  We have one woman in our Latvian community here in America who has a son with severe multiple disabilities. They are both quite old now, she and her son, and undoubtedly some perspective has changed socially and in the medical community since her son was a child, but overall she was told not to speak in her native language because as the son was attending an American ‘school’ where the language was English; this was the language he needed to be familiar with. She obeyed, but as a refugee living in a multigenerational household with her own parents, husband, and another child, she continued speaking Latvian with everyone else. So, the son was still exposed to the language although he was only spoken to directly in English. Even today the language spoken by this woman is a bit of a mixture between the two languages at times, so I doubt he got pure English only. When I speak to him, I usually use English, but with some simple things I use Latvian. I, though, have not explored this further although I am very curious. I did come across the book Language Disabilities in Cultural and Linguistic Diversity by Deidre Martin.  It may have some useful information for you.  Even googling key terms seems to bring about some potential titles and authors.  Good luck to you. Thank you for questioning this; I think it is important.


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