What do we know about Language Disorder

By Dr Goh Kok Yew Shaun
Education Research Scientist, OER Centre for Research in Child Development
Research Scientist, National Institute of Education - Office of Education Research
Published: 1 August 2022


What do we know about language disorder

A sizeable number of children enter school with very low verbal language, with a disorder in language described as a ‘commonly-occurring disability’ in Singapore (pp 27, Ministry of Education, 2018)

In fact, international estimates from the US and UK suggest that up to 2 to 3 children per classroom reach ‘disordered’ levels of verbal language, without a known biomedical cause (‘Developmental Language Disorder’; 7.4.% to 7.6%; Norbury et al., 2018; Tomblin et al., 1997).

Language disorders can be hard to spot (Pua, Lee & Liow, 2017). For example, you can get a sense of who is short or tall by having two children stand side by side and taking a look. What about language?

Here are some signs, *language difficulties such as

Words – e.g. Understanding words, Saying Words, Vocabulary

Sentences – e.g. Following spoken instructions, Ordering of words, Accurate Grammar

Stories – e.g. Understanding stories, Telling complete stories

*As Singapore is a multilingual society where children learn and are exposed to two languages, these difficulties should be present in all the languages a child speaks.

Here are more signs, difficulties in day-to-day life such as

Social Interaction – e.g. making friends and interacting with peers requires talking (language)

Academics – e.g. all subjects have textbooks and homework which requires language

Literacy – e.g. reading and spelling


Questions and Answers about Language Disorders

When should I start to look out for Language Disorder?

Kindergarten, or earlier, where you can observe the child’s ability to speak and understand language day-to-day.

When should I stop looking out for Language Disorder?

Keep looking. It is present in preschool, primary school, secondary school and beyond. International studies show Language Disorders persist from kindergarten to later childhood and even adulthood (Conti-Ramsden, Durkin, Toseeb, Botting & Pickles, 2018).

The child I teach is diagnosed with Autism or Intellectual Disability. Can he/she have a Language Disorder?

Yes. Language Disorders which require support commonly co-occur with these biomedical conditions. International experts refer to this as Language Disorder associated with X, where X is the biomedical condition (Bishop et al., 2017).

The child I teach is not diagnosed with Autism or Intellectual Disability. Can he/she have a Language Disorder?

Yes. This is called DLD - Developmental Language Disorder. A resource written for Singapore is here https://salts.org.sg/developmental-language-disorder-day-2021/

What can I do to support a child suspected or diagnosed with a Language Disorder?

Provide accommodation and refer to a Professional (e.g. Special Education Officer and Speech Therapist)

Accommodations to support language include giving more time, giving a visual support, simplifying instructions, keeping things short, repeating activities or instructions, doing the activity in addition to saying it.


A note from a Researcher

This article was written by Dr Shaun Goh. He is an Education Research Scientist at OER,CRCD, NIE. He conducts research into very low language and very low socio-emotional mental health among Singaporean children. He can be contacted at [email protected] and shares research on twitter https://twitter.com/ShaunKYGoh. Table 1 documents some Language Disorder Research with Singaporean Children that Dr Goh has read over the last 7 years when he first started work in this area.





Bishop, D. V., Snowling, M. J., Thompson, P. A., Greenhalgh, T., Catalise‐2 Consortium, Adams, C., ... & house, A. (2017). Phase 2 of CATALISE: A multinational and multidisciplinary Delphi consensus study of problems with language development: Terminology. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 58(10), 1068-1080.

Brebner, C., Chandler Yeo, H., Goh, M. M., Kam, K. W., & Yeo, W. S. F. (2015). Tests over time: Evaluating the currency of normative data in a complex multilingual environment. International journal of speech-language pathology, 17(6), 556-564.

Brebner, C., McCormack, P., & Rickard Liow, S. (2016). Marking of verb tense in the English of preschool English–Mandarin bilingual children: evidence from language development profiles within subgroups on the Singapore English Action Picture Test. International Journal of Language & Communication Disorders, 51(1), 31-43.

Conti‐Ramsden, G., Durkin, K., Toseeb, U., Botting, N., & Pickles, A. (2018). Education and employment outcomes of young adults with a history of developmental language disorder. International journal of language & communication disorders, 53(2), 237-255.

Goh, S. K., Tham, E. K., Magiati, I., Sim, L., Sanmugam, S., Qiu, A., ... & Rifkin-Graboi, A. (2017). Analysis of item-level bias in the Bayley-III language subscales: the validity and utility of standardized language assessment in a multilingual setting. Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research, 60(9), 2663-2671.

Goh, S.K.,.. (2021). Randomised Pilot Control Trial for Reducing Anxiety Problems among Children indicated to have Developmental Language Disorder (RAP-iDLD) https://nie.edu.sg/research/projects/project/rp-2-21-sg

Goh, S. K.,… (2022). Mobile Web App for Preschool Screening of Language Weakness in English and Mandarin (MAPS-LEM). https://nie.edu.sg/research/projects/project/a-star-hpp-2-22-sg-(h22p0m0006)

Ker, L. E., Lian, H. S., Reutens, S., & Yien, E. L. Y. (2020). Effectiveness of DAS Speech-Language Therapy: A controlled evaluation. Asia Pacific Journal of Developmental Differences, 7(1), 5-26.

Ministry of Education (2018). Professional Practice Guidelines : Psycho-educational Assessment & Placement of Students with Special Educational Needs. Ministry of Education, Singapore

Norbury, C. F., Gooch, D., Wray, C., Baird, G., Charman, T., Simonoff, E., ... & Pickles, A. (2016). The impact of nonverbal ability on prevalence and clinical presentation of language disorder: Evidence from a population study. Journal of child psychology and psychiatry, 57(11), 1247-1257.

Pua, E. P. K., Lee, M. L. C., & Rickard Liow, S. J. (2017). Screening bilingual preschoolers for language difficulties: Utility of teacher and parent reports. Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research, 60(4), 950-968.

Tomblin, J. B., Records, N. L., Buckwalter, P., Zhang, X., Smith, E., & O’Brien, M. (1997). Prevalence of specific language impairment in kindergarten children. Journal of speech, language, and hearing research, 40(6), 1245-1260.

Yeo, H. C., Liow, S. R., & Gupta, A. F. (1994). Specific language disorders in Singaporean children: four case studies.



Goh, Shaun K.Y. (2022, August 1). What do we know about Language Disorder. Child and Human Development, Life@NIE SG®. https://nie.edu.sg/chd/topics/special-education/language-disorder