According to the 2006 National Vital Statistics Report, about 32 twins are born per 1,000 births in the United States. For expecting parents, the prospect of twins can be incredibly exciting. But it can also be just as overwhelming, with double the responsibility and half the time. Raising twins differs from raising singletons in several ways, requiring parents to carefully plan and prepare. Knowing what to expect can reduce anxiety and empower parents to handle their new role with double the confidence.
Are twins more likely to be delayed in Speech?
Studies have documented that twins are more likely to demonstrate delays in speech and language skills, with males typically showing a six-month greater lag than females (Lewis & Thompson, 1992). However, studies have also documented that twins typically catch up in their speech and language development by three to four years of age (Lewis & Thompson, 1992). Language delays are typically characterized by immature verbal skills, shorter utterance lengths, and less overall verbal attempts.
There are several possible causes for speech and language delays in twins, including unique perinatal and environmental factors. For example, premature birth and low birth weight are more common among twins than singletons (Bowen, 1999). Additionally, twins may receive less one-to-one interaction time with their caregiver, as both infants are competing for time and care.
Although it is more common for twins to be delayed in language development, there is danger in assuming that they will catch up down the road. Twins who have true speech-language disorders may not catch up, and will benefit greatly from direct intervention. If you are concerned about your twins’ speech-language development, it is best to seek guidance from a licensed speech-language pathologist.
Do twins have their own language?
“Twin language”, often called idioglossia or autonomous language, is a well documented phenomenon among twins. One study found twin language to occur in 40 percent of twin pairs (Lewis & Thompson, 1992).
So what exactly is twin language? Literature has found that twins do not create a new language, but rather, mimic one another’s immature speech patterns, such as invented words, adult intonation, and onomatopoeic expressions. Because both twins are developing at the same rate, they often reinforce each others’ communicative attempts and increase their own language. Singletons also use invented words, adult intonation patterns and onomatopoeic expressions during language development, but such utterances usually diminish more quickly as they are not reinforced. Although twin language may sound unintelligible to adults, twins typically understand one another.
Here is a great example of Twins having a conversation together!
Tips To Fostering Speech-Language Development in Twins
• Seize opportunities for individual interactions with your twins. Face-to-face interaction may be the most valuable tool you have. As much as possible, seek opportunities to interact with each twin individually. For example, if there are two available parents, have one parent read with one twin, while the other parent plays with the other twin. Or you might make a special “mommy and me” time to read a book together or run an errand.
• Reinforce each twin’s communicative attempts individually. During infancy, respond to and imitate your twins’ facial expressions, vocalizations and babbling. Maintain eye contact as you imitate the sounds each child makes. As much as possible, try to respond to each twin individually. For example, if one twin asks a question, answer them directly. If one child follows a direction, give them direct feedback (e.g. “Wow John! You put your shoes on!”).
• Narrate what is happening in the environment. Use simple language to describe actions and events as they are happening. Make your language specific to each individual twin (e.g. “Jimmy, you are putting on your shoes!” and “John, you are putting your toys in the box.”)
• Encourage listening and turn-taking during conversation. Prompt each twin to listen when the other is speaking, and make space for the other twin to finish expressing their thought oridea (e.g. “It’s Jimmy’s talking turn right now. John, it’s your turn to listen. You can have your talking turn next.”).
• Read together. Choose books with large and engaging pictures that are not too detailed. Point to and label various pictures (e.g. “Ball!” or “Cow! Cow says moo moo!”). Ask each child, “What’s this?” and encourage them to name pictures. Young children may not be able to attend to a book for very long, and that’s okay! Follow each child’s lead and don’t feel pressured to finish a whole book. Instead, focus on keeping literacy activities fun and engaging, and enjoy the few pages your children will read.
• Encourage your twins to use different vowels and speech sounds. During infancy, engage each child in sound play, pairing different sounds with silly actions (e.g. “oo”, “ee”, “da”, “ba” or “ma”). You might knock over a block and exclaim “uh oh!” or you might make environmental noises during play (e.g. “car says beep beep!” or “cow says moo moo!”). Encourage each child to imitate various sounds as they explore and play.
• Pair gestures with words to help convey meaning as you communicate with your twins. For example, if your child wants to be picked up, you might reach your hands up high and say, “Up!’ or wave your hand as you say, “Bye bye!” Point to objects as you label them (e.g. “ball!” or “milk!”).
• Encourage your twins to imitate your actions. Play finger games such as “Itsy Bitsy Spider”, “Wheels on the Bus”, and “Pat-A-Cake”. You might also play “Peek-A-Boo”, clap your hands, or blow kisses.
Lewis, B.A. & Thompson, L.A. (1992). A Study of Developmental Speech and Language Disorders in Twins. Journal of Speech and Hearing Research, 35, 1086-1094.
Bowen, C. (1999). Twins development and language. Retrieved from on 2/9/2011.
*This article was previously run on North Shore Pediatric Therapy’s website*
About the author: Deanna Swallow, M.A., CCC-SLP is a speech-language pathologist who earned her master’s degree from Northwestern University. Prior to living in Chicago, Deanna attended the University of California at Davis, where she earned her bachelor’s degree in Psychology with a minor in Human Development. During her time at Davis, Deanna served as a research assistant for an Infant-Development Study in the Department of Human Development. Deanna has experience working as a pediatric speech-language pathologist in private practice, Early Intervention, and in preschool and elementary school settings. She is strongly committed to helping children build confidence and achieve their maximum potential.