Developing Language Skills in Children
Tips to help nurture and encourage early childhood language development.
As parents, we play an important role in our children’s language development. We are whom they spend most of their time with; whom they look up to. Talking with our children and reading with them every day is fundamental in helping to develop their language skills as they grow.
Research has shown that children who develop strong language and communication skills during early childhood are more likely to be keen learners as they start school. Although all children develop differently, and you can’t rush your child’s natural development, there are many things you can do in order to boost their language skills.
Birth – 2 years
The first years of a child’s life it is important that they hear lots of different sounds and words in order to set the foundation to develop their language skills.
Copy what your child does when they laugh or make a noise, and encourage them to copy you. Make lots of vowel sounds like “ma”, “ba”, “la”. Encourage your child to imitate your actions. Eg clapping hands, poking your tongue out, showing the gestures to a favourite nursery rhyme.
Give your child as much exposure to language as possible. Talk about what you are doing or what you are going to do. While dressing your child, or changing their nappy, tell them exactly what is happening. You may feel silly talking to someone to isn’t talking back, however remember that they are taking in every word that you say. Using simple sentences and repeating those same sentences often can be very effective.
When your child starts to try to communicate, make sure you let them know that you are watching them. Ask them questions like, “oh did you like that story?”, “do you want me to sing that song again?” “are you still hungry?.. yes.. ok let’s have some more”
Sing songs and nursery rhymes often. Infants and toddlers love music, and most of all love the sound of their parents voices. Singing not only gives children exposure to new vocabulary, but also rhythm, and tone. The benefits of music and learning a language are endless.
Reading aloud to your child from birth plays an important role in your child’s language development. It will ensure they hear a broad range of different words; words they may not hear otherwise during their days. Choose large hard cover books with simple pictures, so that your child can touch and play (and most probably eat). Make bedtime stories a part of your nightly routine.
2 -4 years
These next few years it is important to encourage and nurture your child’s language development in the following ways.
Use full proper sentences when speaking with your child, rather than baby talk. Modelling the language they should use, will give them a good example to follow. Don’t hesitate to use language you think they can’t understand. Whichever words they hear to describe something, they will use.
Comment then Question:
To encourage your child to speak try a sentence like: “It is time for bed, let’s put our pyjamas on. What are we going to do? First the comment, then the question. This way they are more likely to answer you as they know what to say. It will also help them to remember for next time. Repetition is an important part of language development.
Introduce new vocabulary through different activities and games according to your child’s interest. Help them to learn the colours and shapes by drawing or describing objects. Learn the animals by singing songs like “Old McDonald” and learn the sounds they make. Point out the parts of the body. Go outside and watch for different vehicles. I spy is a great game for learning the names of new objects.
Read Aloud and together:
Children by this age should have stopped chewing the books and started to take note of what is actually on the pages. Start reading with your children, as well as reading to them. Ask questions throughout the book like “what colour is the car? and encourage your child to answer. If they don’t answer your question, answer it for them. “The car is red” You can use the comment and question technique as mentioned above also when reading with your child.
By now children should have a good grasp on language and are mastering their speaking and listening skills.
Have conversations together discussing different topics. Using your child’s interests and talk to your child, encouraging them to talk back with you. Talking together is the cheapest form of education to help their language development.
Introduce different verbs and adjectives when speaking with your child. Don’t be shy about using bigger words, as mentioned above, children will use the words they hear. Try some describing activities where you ask questions about a certain person or object. Use daily situations to help.
While you are out shopping: “What types of fruit do we have here?” or “What colour is this apple?”
While cooking: “Where do we get milk from?” “How do these carrots grow?”
While you are reading together: “Is the giraffe tall or short?” “What is the little girl wearing?”
Children at this age love to ask questions. Although we may get tired of answering the same questions over and over, we should resist the temptation to ignore our children or dismiss what they are saying. Try to answer their questions, (even if you feel you are answering it for the tenth time that day!) and explain things that happen, and why they happen. Remember, everything we say to our children, in one way or another, they will remember.
Read aloud and together:
While reading aloud to your child is still important at this age, reading together is just as important. Using some of the points above, you can discuss what is going on during the story, describe the people or the objects, and question what is going to happen next. Have your child read you the story once in a while. With repetition, many children are able to tell you the stories from memory if you have read the book to them often enough.
In my experience as a language teacher to children, and mother of bilingual kids, I recommend these suggestions to help to improve and nurture language development in children.
Language Development in Bilingual Children
For further reading, you can check out a previous post written by an expert on the topic: Language Development Advice from a Speech Therapist. If you have any specific concerns about your child, you should seek advice from your doctor or a health professional.
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