Bilingualism No Problem for Children with Down Syndrome

Children with Down syndrome can and do become bilingual. Initial findings of a research study at Bangor University suggest that speaking two languages is not in any way detrimental to the language development of children with Down syndrome. Bangor University is working with the Down’s Syndrome Association in Wales to examine language in Welsh–English bilingual children with Down syndrome and children exposed to English only. Researchers tested expressive and receptive language skills, as well as phonological awareness, the ability to manipulate speech sounds, in both languages. The English of the two groups was found to be at the same level.


Rebecca Ward, postgraduate researcher working on the project, explains: “We are finding that there are no differences between the English of the bilingual children and the English of the monolingual children with Down syndrome. In addition, their Welsh skills are in line with the skills of typically developing children of the same developmental age.” The research team is led by Dr. Eirini Sanoudaki, who is senior lecturer in language acquisition at Bangor University and has been researching language in children with Down syndrome for over ten years. Dr. Sanoudaki explains: “These are exciting findings and an important step towards supporting bilingual families. Parents of children with Down syndrome have been traditionally advised against exposing their children to two languages, for fear that the children would not be able to cope. We are now seeing that there is no basis for such fears. The children are making excellent progress in both languages.


“Children with Down syndrome can speak two languages. We are happy to be able to provide information which can support and empower families in their decisions.”

4 COMMENTS

  1. This just provides further evidence that children born with Down syndrome are far more capable than the population at large realizes.

  2. Interesting research, thank you for sharing it. I teach phonetics and I am highly interested in this aspect of bilingualism.

  3. I´m Brazilian and grandmother of two kids: Julia ( 6) and Daniel (3 DS). Since Julia was born , my daughter and her husband decided that we would give her a bilingual(English and native Portuguese)home environment. And we´ve been very successful with that: Julia can hear, speak and, now, write in both languages. When Daniel was born, with DS, they decided we would do the same way with him. He is still non verbal, but can understand us in both languages, and now he is speaking his first syllables and sounds, in Portuguese and English. We live in Brazil.

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