Boys have more difficulty learning to talk than girls

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The Independent Online

Almost one in six children have problems learning to talk, with boys facing more difficulties than girls, a survey found today.

More than one in five (22 per cent) of boys experience problems with talking and understanding speech, compared to around one in seven (13 per cent) girls, according to a poll of over 1,000 parents of youngsters aged one to seven.

Boys are also twice as likely as girls (5 per cent compared to 2 per cent) to have significant problems with talking.

The poll was published by Jean Gross, England's first Communications Champion to mark the start of her new post.

The findings show that almost 17 per cent of children face difficulties with communication.

A quarter (23 per cent) do not receive any help with speech problems, and almost half (46 per cent) did not receive help from a speech and language therapist.

Others received help from a teacher, health visitor or nursery and playgroup staff.

The survey found that around six in 10 parents believe the ability to talk, listen and understand is the most important skills for children to develop during their early years, ahead of interacting with others (26 per cent), reading skills (11 per cent) numeracy skills (2 per cent) and writing skills (1 per cent).

Ms Gross said: "Our ability to communicate is fundamental and underpins everything else. Learning to talk is one of the most important skills a child can master in the 21st century. The proportion of children who have difficulty learning to talk and understand speech is high, particularly among boys.

"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 shows that parents place learning to talk and listen as a top priority for their children, whatever their social class, and do a great deal to help them learn to communicate."

The poll also showed that many parents attempt to improve their child's speech and language skills by spending time with their youngsters looking at picture books, telling stories, playing word games and singing nursery rhymes.

Just a fifth (21 per cent) said their child has a TV in their bedroom, although of these, one in 10 (11 per cent) said their child was under the age of one when they first had a television.

The survey also looked at children's first words.

It found that the most common age for children to say their first word was between 10 and 11 months.

More girls than boys (34 per cent compared to 27 per cent) said their first word before they were nine months old, while some 4 per cent had not said their first word by the time they were three years old.

The most common first word was "dadda" or "dada", cited by 15 per cent of those questioned, compared to "mamma" or "mama" mentioned by 10 per cent of parents.

Apart from variations on "mum" and "dad", the most common first word was "cat", listed by 2 per cent of parents.

Girls were on average, quicker to put two words together, with over a fifth (22 per cent) able to do this by the time they were one, compared to 16 per cent of boys.

Ms Gross was appointed Communications Champion by Children's Secretary Ed Balls in October.

* The YouGov poll questioned 1,015 parents of children aged one to seven between December 15-18.