Language Development Delay & Second Language Acquisition Delay

When a child understands but does not speak, early intervention is key.

Language Delay

Communication disorders involve persistent problems related to language and speech. There are four types of communication disorders, including language disorder, speech sound disorder, child-onset fluency disorder, and social communication disorder. The onset of the disorder is prevalent in children between the ages 4-7. A child may be diagnosed with a communication disorder after delay in language and speech has become noticeable in comparison to their peers.

The problems may persist throughout childhood, affecting the child’s academic and social functioning. According to research, genetic factors are involved in the development of communication disorders; however, the exact cause is not fully understood. The symptoms may differ greatly from person to person. The most common comorbidities associated with communication disorders are ADHD, ASD, and intellectual disorder.

The act of communicating involves verbal and non-verbal behaviors and exchanging thoughts, and thus, it is critical to take into consideration a child’s cultural and language background during the psycho-educational assessment. Especially, when assessing a child who has been exposed to two or more languages, it is important to assess his/her overall language development, non-verbal abilities, and academic achievement to have a comprehensive understanding of the child’s language delay.

Below are the main symptoms and characteristics of communication disorders:


Language Disorder

1.     Consistent difficulties with comprehending and acquiring new words and languages which leads to further problems in sentence structure and oral expression

2.     Delayed language development compared to what is expected of the child’s age and grade


Speech-sound Disorder



1.     Trouble saying certain words and sounds affecting communication with other people


2.     Lack of phonemic awareness skills or difficulties controlling muscles used for speech are often the causes that lead to speech-sound disorder


Fluency Disorder



1.     Fluency disorder occurs when the rate or rhythm of speech is impaired, and the child has consistent difficulties with flow of speech compared to what is expected of his or her age


2.     Repetition of words and syllables or making sounds of a certain vowel or consonant longer than it is supposed to be 


3.     Stuttering or cluttering (e.g., atypical pause or irregular speech rate) while pronouncing a word(s)


4.     Avoidance behaviors such as avoiding specific words or sounds


5.     Children with child-onset fluency disorder often show symptoms before age 6 and family predisposition increases the risk of the disorder

Results of clinical research on English language transfer by Dr. Cho and his team.

– Students, who do not perform at the level of their peers in basic English classes at school for 6 months and remain in the bottom 10-20 percentile, have a high likelihood of delay in acquiring a second language.


– English language acquisition delay of 6 months or longer can lead to emotional and behavioral issues such as depression, anxiety, and attention deficit.


– Second language acquisition delay may also deter the normal neuropsychological development, and language acquisition can be facilitated with psycho-educational treatment after professional assessment.

Second language acquisition delay

Most youth who experience language transfer from the Korean language to the English language or vice versa, naturally acquire the second language within 2-3 years. However, inadequate language education, excessive fear or depression, auditory working memory issues, or neurodevelopmental issues can make second language acquisition more difficult. If these issues are not being treated, children are highly likely to experience severe depression, anxiety disorder, maladjustment to school, or defiant behavior and addiction to game/computer at home. Such second language acquisition delay and its accompanying emotional and behavioral disorders require systemic and long-term treatment. In particular, individualized psycho-educational programs based on neuropsychological treatment to stimulate second language acquisition is critical.


The symptoms and characteristics of second language transfer delay are as follow:


– Inability to perform above the 20th percentile in English Language Learner classes at school after 1 year of transfer from the Korean to English language or vice versa.


– Little to no improvement despite a large amount of time investment in receiving education from school, private academy (e.g. hagwon), and/or tutoring.


– Gradual loss of interest and confidence in English or Korean language acquisition, avoidance of assignments, defiance, and excessive time spent on games and computers.


– Inability to acquire grade-appropriate knowledge due to more than two or more years of language transfer delay.


– Inability to acquire grade-appropriate knowledge despite sufficient academic support from English-language schools. 

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