Is this an old wive's tale?

"We are looking for a child speech therapist for our 4-year-old boy. He has developed an issue saying the letter "S" and has a slight lisp due to being bilingual. We live very close to the NANA BTS station and would like a private tutor to help support his language development in English, with a focus on the lisp.”

I found this ad on ajarn.com on May 3rd, and felt I needed to respond. To begin with, there is no scientific or linguistic evidence to suggest that lisping is caused by, or due to, “being bilingual.” Lisps are primarily due to an improper placement of the tongue when speaking. They can also be due to having dental work done, the placement of dentures, or hearing loss. Obviously the four-year-old in this case does not have to worry about dentures, (at least not yet), but having his hearing tested may be a sound idea. Children who don’t hear well will have problems enunciating words properly.

Linguists and speech therapists distinguish between four kinds of lisps: frontal, dental, palatal, lateral. The first two are part of normal speech development and the child will probably grow out of it on his own. The last two are not part of normal speech development, so the child may need help with speech therapy. It is best to find out which kind of lisp your child has before beginning speech therapy.

I found the “being bilingual” part concerning because it is based on misinformation and what my people refer to in Yiddish as a “Bubba Miseh”, grandmother stories or an old wives’ tale. It was also thought several years ago that thumb sucking can cause lisping in children. Again, a bubba miseh. This belief has also prevented many parents to delay second language acquisition in their children, thinking it neurologically dangerous or culturally disadvantageous. Not true.

It is helpful to have as much accurate information as possible before making an informed decision on how to proceed. I’m sure the boy’s parents have done this. Please don’t worry too much about it. Your son will be just fine. Good luck.

Steve


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