Baby talk is not as easy as it looks for 17 per cent of children

More boys than girls have trouble learning to speak, suggests study
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The Independent Online

One in six children experiences difficulties in learning how to talk, according to a poll published today.

Boys are twice as likely to struggle as girls, the survey of more than 1,000 parents also reveals. The poll, conducted by YouGov to coincide with the first day in office of the new Communication Champion for Children Jean Gross, says four per cent of children had still not said their first word by the time they reached the age of three.

It showed 22 per cent of boys and 13 per cent of girls were likely to experience difficulties with talking and understanding speech. Only 54 per cent of these received help from a speech or language therapist.

The average age for children to start talking was between 10 and 11 months.

The most common first word was "dada" (cited by 15 per cent of parents). "Mama" came second at 10 per cent despite children spending more time with their mothers. "Cat" was in third place, being the first word uttered by 2 per cent of children.

Unusual first words cited by parents included "beer" and "titsup".

The post of Communications Champion was set up by Schools Secretary Ed Balls after an inquiry into language and speech disorders among children by John Bercow, the speaker of the House of Commons.

"Our ability to communicate is fundamental and underpins everything else," said Jean Gross.

"It is essential that all children get the help they need from skilled professionals as early as possible.

"The lack of this is cause for great concern because the results of this poll show that parents place learning to talk and listening as a top priority for their children, whatever their social class, and do a great deal to help them learn to communicate."

The majority of children, the survey also showed, did not enjoy looking at picture books with their parents until they were at least six months old. Children from more affluent families were said to enjoy looking at them from an earlier age.

Nearly eight out of 10 parents said the best thing to do if a child said a word or phrase incorrectly was to repeat it in the proper way rather than point out the error. Fathers were more likely to correct the child, as were parents from less affluent homes.

A spokesperson for the Department of Children, Schools and Families said: "Speech, language and communication are crucial to every child's ability to access education and get the most out of life, which is why we're working closely with the Communications Champion to improve services for children with communication difficulties and help families get the support they need.

"It's right that good communication should start at home, and it's vital that it continues at nursery and in school. We're committed to improving the outcomes for children with communication difficulties."