10 tips to boost speech & language development

Children are talking less. In fact, research in the UK points to a disturbing trend where half of all five-year-olds entering primary school are very far behind on their speech milestones. “Up to 300,000 [children] are struggling to string a sentence together or [aren’t able] to understand simple instructions by the age of five,” says the Daily Mail article penned by Sarah Harris. And, says Sarah, the main reason for this sad state of affairs is that today’s parents simply spend less time speaking to their children than the parents of yesteryear…

    This is all fine and well, but we’re beyond busy these days aren’t we? Just how can we fit more time into our days? The fact is, being a parent has always been a really tough job, but our parents didn’t have television ‘digital’ babysitters or battery operated decoys… They had to find a way to include us and engage us… The simplest way back then was through conversation. And parents today can do the same – for the sake of their children’s ability to speak and understand language.

   The good news is that there are 10 easy pointers that can amplify your efforts as you encourage your little one’s speech and language skills.

1.       Put yourself in your child’s shoes
What does your child want to talk about? What would be most important to your child in the different situations you find yourselves in? Your child is most likely to pay attention to what you say when you’re talking about something that interests him, albeit using simple language. On top of this, you can  learn a great deal about what your little one is thinking and feeling by looking at his facial expressions and his body language to see where he is focusing his attention.

2.       Make it meaningful and simple

Always start with the most natural and common use of a word possible.
   For example, start with ‘bird’ before progressing to ‘goose’ or ‘duck’.

3.       Get descriptive
Try not to just name things, but describe them too…

   For example, ‘see the shiny apple’ or ‘touch the cat softly’. And, instead of simply saying, “Put it over there”, you can say “Please put the fluffy cushion on the blue chair.” The more specific and descriptive our language is as we speak to children, the more they learn.

4.       Get real
While it remains  really important to read books with your child and point to pictures, language is often learned much quicker through actual experience. For example, it is much easier to learn the words ‘kick’ and ‘ball’ when you’re actually kicking a ball together.

5.       Make the most of everyday opportunities
This is really an easy one, because any toddler wants to be involved anyway.

   For example, let your child help you pack the washing machine and talk about ‘socks’, ‘pants’, and other clothes, or let them “help” you find things in the grocery store.

   It’s great to introduce children to new and novel experiences for obvious reasons, but everyday experiences are specifically valuable because they create the opportunity for children to learn through real life experience. It’s also easy to repeat these experiences over and over again.  

6.       Use gestures
Not only is it ok, it is actually great if you use gestures for certain words such as ‘hello’ (wave), ‘fetch the…’ (point), ‘sit on my lap’ (pat your lap) etc. You can also indicate when things are big or small with your hands or point if you want your child to climb over or under something. To add to the meaning as well, you can use your voice and facial expressions to indicate anger, sadness, sleepiness, happiness etc.

7.       Repetition, repetition, repetition
It is very important to emphasize and repeat the words you want your child to learn. Sometimes you may need to repeat something several times and sometimes a hundred times; it depends on the age of your child and the particular word.

   For example, you can emphasize the word whenever the moment arises and then repeat it immediately again, “It is time to bath. You like to bath. Let’s go bath!”

8.       Respond immediately
There is nothing like an instant response to tell a child that using language and speaking is important and valuable to them. When your child sees results, there will be more incentive for them to try and try again.

   For example, when you’re child points at a dog and says ‘dog’, you can respond by saying, ‘Yes… there is the dog! What do dogs say? Woof woof!’

9.       Practice makes perfect
At first your child will be approximating words and they may not be pronounced perfectly. This is just fine at first, so encourage your child to use the word without correcting the mistake and embarrassing your child.   Rather respond by using the word correctly in a sentence, for example, when your child points to a baby and says, “ba”, you can respond with, “Oh yes, a baby! Let’s say hello to the baby!”

10.   What words are not…
In order to learn what things are, your child also needs to know what they are not… It’s generally best to point out what something is before pointing out what it is not…

    For example, when you are playing with a ball you can use the ‘ball’ and then refer to a cube and say, ‘Is this a ball? No! Of course not! (and giggle) It’s a cube!’

   When research tells us that parents are spending more time watching television than in meaningful conversation with their children, it becomes concerning. Language is vitally important for a child’s intellectual development and being a parent is a lot like being a tour-guide to your child’s world.

   Talking to your children doesn’t have to mean dedicating more time that doesn’t actually exist – it just means switching off the television, getting them involved and making a little effort to talk to them – they will love it and so will you!

Remember, if your child can’t name it, he can’t claim it.

The Practica Team
parents who know better… do better…

To comment or to be added to the mailing list for blog updates please email lizette@practicaprogramme.co.za

2 thoughts on “10 tips to boost speech & language development

  1. Hadar says:

    how does the main caregiver of the child teach multiple languages to a child. My partner is hardly around and I am mainly the only one communicating with my baby. How do I teach her more than one language without confusing her?

    • admin says:

      Hi Hadar! Thank you for your question. We have sent it on to Lizette at the advisory service who will be able to answer your question. Please let us know if there is anything else we can assist with. Kind regards, the Practica Team.

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