Language is one of the main areas of difficulty within
individuals with Down syndrome, particularly when compared to
general cognitive abilities, as language development is typically
lower than would be expected. There is also a great deal of
individual difference in terms of overall language abilities.
Generally, children with Down syndrome have stronger abilities
in language comprehension than in spoken or expressive language.
Research in the field of language development within Down syndrome
has primarily focused on language abilities of children learning
one language only; however, there are a considerable number of
bilingual speakers across the world, including in Wales which is
the only officially bilingual country in the UK.
The patterns of language development within bilinguals with Down
syndrome is, therefore, an area requiring investigation. Findings
to date suggest that children with Down syndrome are not at any
disadvantage if they are exposed to a second language when compared
to children with Down syndrome who speak only English, however,
this has not been researched in the UK as of yet.
The current ongoing research project at Bangor University aims
to enhance understanding of this area and more specifically
within the Welsh language context. Parents or guardians will also
be asked to complete a background questionnaire and children will
be assessed on a range of language and cognitive measures.
The researchers are looking for families to take part who have a
child with Down syndrome between the ages of 5-18, who either speak
English only or who are Welsh-English bilinguals.
Some of the questions that they hope to answer are:
- What are the language abilities of children with Down syndrome
who are bilingual or monolingual?
- Are there areas of language development that are more
challenging for these individuals?
- How does their language development compare for children who
speak two languages compared to those who speak one?
How to take part
If you are interested in taking part in the research or would
like some more information, please contact the researchers via
The research can be conducted at a suitable location for you,
whether this is at your home, school or other convenient location.
It is hoped that this research will provide a new insight into the
bilingual and monolingual language development in Down syndrome
that will assist families in making informed language choices, as
well as implications for clinical practice and education policy in
Language development in bilinguals with Down syndrome
There is limited information to date available to guide families
and practitioners working with bilingual children who have Down
syndrome. Consequently, where there is a choice in terms of
bilingual exposure, parents may have difficulties in identifying
the potential language outcome for these children.
A further area of specific difficulty within those with Down
syndrome is a skill termed phonological awareness. This is the
ability to identify and manipulate speech sounds within a language.
Phonological awareness plays an important role in learning to read
and spell. In typically developing bilingual children, this skill
is reportedly enhanced. Consequently, it is interesting to consider
how this skill will develop in bilinguals with Down syndrome.
Previous research into bilingualism in Down syndrome has
primarily focused on French-English bilinguals in Canada.
Researchers compared the language abilities of bilinguals and
monolinguals with Down syndrome in terms of overall language
assessments and found that the language abilities of the two groups
of children were comparable.
Therefore, the addition of a second language may not be a
detriment to language acquisition as some may automatically assume.
It may seem counterintuitive to some to expose a child to a second
language if they initially have difficulties in acquiring their
first language, however, there is no evidence against exposure to
Although there are most often delays and impairments within the
language domain for children with Down syndrome, research suggests
that bilingualism will not increase these difficulties.
Being able to speak two languages is advantageous in our
multilingual world. Alongside this, bilingualism may also benefit
some of the specific areas in which individuals with Down syndrome
tend to struggle, such as phonological awareness mentioned
The addition of a second language for children with Down
syndrome may even assist with this underdeveloped area, which may
impact later reading and spelling development.
If you have any questions, please contact:
Rebecca Ward, PhD Student
School of Linguistics and English Language
Dr Eirini Sanoudaki, Senior Lecturer in Language Acquisition
School of Linguistics and English Language