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Bilingual children more apt to stutter

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Reuters Health

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - British researchers have found that children who are bilingual before their 5th birthday are far more likely to stutter and have a tougher time overcoming the speech impediment than their counterparts who speak only one language.

The findings, reported in the latest issue of the Archives of Disease in Childhood, are based on a study of 317 children living in and around London who were referred to a speech therapist for stuttering when they were between 8 and 10 years old.

Roughly 22 percent of the children were bilingual; they spoke English and a second language at home. Nearly 61 percent of bilingual kids stuttered, whereas only 26 percent of the non-stuttering group was bilingual, Dr. Peter Howell from University College London and colleagues report.

For the most part, bilingual stutters stuttered in both languages. Their stuttering began when they were around the age of 4 years, and boy stutterers outnumbered girls by a ratio of 4 to 1.

Roughly three quarters of children who did not stutter exclusive spoke a language other than English at home; only a quarter spoke two languages.

The likelihood of losing the speech impediment was lower among bilingual children. Only 25 percent of the bilingual group had stopped stuttering by age 12, whereas 55 percent of the children who either spoke only their native language at home up to the age of 5, or who spoke only English, had stopped stuttering by this age.

"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," the researchers say.

Stuttering did not impact the children's school performance, the researchers say.

SOURCE: Archives of Disease in Childhood, 2008.

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