Double Talk: Exploring Language Development in Twins

Joe Rawlinson by Joe Rawlinson - May 23, 2024

Watching your twins learn to talk at the same time may sound like double the chaos, but did you know there are twin-specific aspects of language development? Language acquisition in twins has long fascinated researchers, and recent studies are shedding new light on this unique phenomenon.

Twins, whether identical or fraternal, often share a special bond that goes beyond genetics. They can have their own secret language, known as “twin language,” which helps them communicate with each other before they start speaking in full sentences.

While this early form of twin communication allows them to develop language with each other, twins typically lag behind single-born children.

Our identical twin girls would babble and squawk at each other and seemingly were able to communicate that way despite my wife or I not understanding the gibberish.

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Twin Language Development Is Slower

Researchers have found that twins tend to reach language milestones later than single-born children. These milestones include babbling, first words, and sentence formation.

The root causes of delayed language development in twins are typically thought to be:

  • genetics
  • premature birth
  • environmental factors (like attention from parents)

We saw some speech delays in our girls while simultaneously seeing rapid learning first hand with our twin girls. Once one girl figured out a skill, her sister would see that, mimic the behavior, and shortly thereafter master the skill. As long as one of the twins figured something out, her sister was never far behind.

The unique language development journey of twins

Twins have a language development journey that is quite distinct from that of singleton children. From the moment they are born, twins are exposed to double the amount of language input. They are constantly interacting with each other, engaging in conversations, and exchanging ideas. This constant communication serves as a crucial foundation for their language development.

Twin parents’ attention is also divided and that can lead to less one-on-one attention with each twin. Less attention means less time to focus on speech and language development.

The role of genetics in language development in twins

Research suggests that genetic factors contribute to individual differences in language abilities. Twins may inherit certain linguistic traits, such as a predisposition for language learning, from their parents. These genetic factors can influence the speed and ease with which twins acquire language skills.

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However, it is important to note that genetics alone cannot account for the language development observed in twins. The environment and the unique social interactions they experience play a significant role in shaping their linguistic abilities.

Early language intervention for twins

Early language intervention is crucial for maximizing the language development potential of your twins. You, as the parents, play a vital role in nurturing their language skills from an early age. Engaging in interactive activities such as reading books, singing songs, and engaging in conversations can stimulate their language learning.

(RELATED: Love podcasts? Check out the entire Dad's Guide to Twins Podcast archive for additional twin tips and interviews with twin dads.)

It is important to create a language-rich environment where your twins are exposed to a wide range of vocabulary and language structures:

  • Use descriptive language
  • Ask open-ended questions
  • Encourage your twins to express themselves
  • Provide opportunities for social interactions with other children

I loved to read bedtime stories to my twins as part of our bedtime routine. However, reading wasn’t limited to only right before bed. We always have books around the house that lead to opportunities for the kids to discover and read by themselves or with a parent.

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Create a supportive and encouraging environment where your twins feel comfortable expressing themselves and taking risks in their language use.

Twin language and its impact on overall development

Twin language, also known as “cryptophasia,” refers to the unique language system that twins develop to communicate with each other.

(RELATED: Still looking for the right twin gear? See my Twin Baby Gear Essentials.)

This secret language can have both positive and negative impacts on their overall development. On one hand, twin language fosters a strong bond between twins and enhances their communication skills. It allows them to develop a shared understanding and a sense of companionship.

Because your twins are always together, they are good at interpreting each other’s intentions that are communicated via babbles, grunts, cries, and sounds even though it isn’t a formalized language.

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As our girls got better with their speech, we had one twin daughter that would occasionally “translate” her sister’s requests so we or other people could understand.

Excessive reliance on twin language can also hinder their language development in the long run. Twins may become less motivated to communicate with others outside their twin relationship. This can limit their exposure to different types of language and speech – like accents, slang, and those subtle nuances of everyone’s way of talking.

It is OK to allow your twins’ language but don’t allow it to become their exclusive way of communicating.

Not all twins will have their own language and if they do, it may only be something minor and not their exclusive way of communicating.

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Twin language vs. language delay: How to differentiate

It is important to differentiate between twin language and language delay in twins. While twin language is a natural part of their communication development, language delay refers to a significant lag in speech compared to typical developmental milestones.

If your twins are significantly delayed in their language development and struggle to communicate effectively with others, it may be a sign of a language delay or disorder. In such cases, it is important to seek professional evaluation and intervention to support their language development.

We got so accustomed to our twins’ unique way of speaking that it took comments from grandparents and friends to help us realize they couldn’t understand our twin girls. This ultimately led to us taking our girls to speech therapy to overcome their speech delays.

Celebrating the linguistic journey of twins

The language development of your twins is a fascinating phenomenon that will be fun to watch as your twins grow.

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Your twins will have a unique journey of learning to speak and communicate. It may include their own twin language but maybe not. They may have speech delays or they may not. Every twin is different (yes, even identical twins).

Factors such as the close bond between your twins, premature birth, environmental factors, and genetic predispositions all contribute to their language skills development.

You can support your twin’s development of strong communication skills.

Observe their behavior, encourage proper speech, read to your twins, and let them interact with a diverse group of people and they’ll be chatting up a storm in no time.

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Further Reading

Dad's Guide to Raising Twins book
Don't forget to pick up a copy of the definitive guide to raising twins. "Dad's Guide to Raising Twins" was written for fathers of twins to help guide you through the first several years with twins. Click here to learn more about the book and get your copy.