Strategies from a certified speech-language pathologist to boost your child’s language development.
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To say I’m obsessed with language development would be an understatement. I love it so much, that from a young age I wanted to make it a career; which is why I became a speech therapist—or speech-language pathologist (to be technical and fancy).
As a speech therapist there are many areas in my field of expertise. However, language development fascinates me and is one of my favorite areas to study and to treat. The amazing potential of cute babbling babies and their ability to interpret, absorb, and develop a complex lingual system in just a few short years astounds me.
Learning a language is quite the accomplishment for babies. Below I have listed a handful of ways we, as mamas, can help our babies be more successful with their efforts and endeavors of learning language.
5 Language Development Strategies
For Babies (Emerging Language: Age 1-2 years)
- Narrate – Narrating day-to-day activities and tasks is a great way to help your child learn basic vocabulary, sequencing, and simple vital life-skills. Activities such as bath time, meal time, dressing, and yes, even changing those smelly/poopy diapers. Examples of narration:
- “It’s time for lunch. Mmm, let’s eat some yummy carrots.”
- “Time to get dressed. First, let’s put your head through. Peekaboo! Then your arm, then your other arm. Next, we’ll put on your pants. One leg, now your other leg. All done!”
- Imitate – Imitating early speech sounds and words is essential to help those cute babbling babies connect those words and certain situations. For example:
- “bye” = a departure, or the end of an activity
- “up” = a request to be picked up or the direction of a moving object
- Expand – Expanding basic baby utterances is vital for babies to expand their utterance length and develop more complex language skills. Examples:
- Baby says, “ball.” Mom says, “blue ball” and eventually, “okay, the big blue ball.”
- Baby says, “off.” Mom says, “light off” and eventually, “do you want the light off?”
- Create Communication Temptations – Creating situations which tempt your baby to communicate is a great way to enhance language development. For example:
- Only give baby a small portion of her favorite snack so she is tempted to request, “more.”
- wind up a toy car and wait to release it until baby says, “go.”
- Read – Reading is one of the easiest and most important things you can do with your baby. It is a great way to help your baby develop vocabulary, enhance memory, and promote higher level cognitive skills. Check out some of our favorite children’s books here.
For Toddlers (Developing Language: Age 2-4 years)
- Categorize – Categorizing objects your child comes across throughout the day helps your child connect objects and concepts. You can easily make this a game. For example:
- During meal time, have your child take note of the fruit being served and have the child name other fruits. You can say, “Yummy apple. Apples are a type of fruit. What are some other fruits you like to eat?”
- Go for a walk and look for objects of a certain color and have your child name other objects that would fit into that color category. You can say, “Look at the green grass. Can you think of something else green, like grass?”
- Rhyme – Rhyming is great way to help your child connect words and learn to manipulate speech sounds within words which has shown to promote early literacy skills. Here are some ideas of how to practice rhyming:
- Nursery Rhymes – good, old-fashioned nursery rhymes not only promote rhyming skills, but memory as well.
- Rhyming game – name a word and have your child think of a word that rhymes.
- Reading a story – many children’s books rhyme. A few of my favorites include: Sheep in a Jeep, Goodnight Moon, Giraffes Can’t Dance, Moo Baa La La La.
- Ask Questions – Asking your child questions that elicit a lengthy response creates opportunities for your child to associate ideas and to practice more complex language structures. For example:
- “What should we eat for breakfast?” Child then has to associate foods with breakfast.
- “Why do you need a bath?” Child then has to associate the purpose of a bath with being dirty.
- Introduce Absurdities – Introducing absurdities into a conversation are a fun, and sometimes a silly way to keep your child “on his toes” by reasoning through the absurdity. This allows him to practice more complex language skills. For example:
- Read a story together and part-way through, introduce one of your child’s favorite characters from another unrelated story.
- Pretend to cook or order food from a restaurant and name or request items you would typically not cook or find on a menu (garbage, socks, snake, etc.).
- Read – Reading is a great way to learn to predict, to sequence, and to develop the aforementioned skills. Reading at an early age will help your child’s vocabulary and pre-literacy skills such as letter identification and phonological awareness (a child’s ability to observe and manipulate sounds in oral language). Check out some of our favorite children’s books here.
Benefits Beyond Language Development
You may wonder about the benefits of these strategies in conjunction with some form of media. While it is possible, the easiest and most effective way to utilize these strategies is through interactive play. Watching movies or TV shows can be educational; however, studies have shown a child’s best opportunity to learn and develop language skills is through language-enriched interactive play. A child who participates in daily interactive play with an adult, not only develops better language skills, but higher cognitive skills, social skills, emotional regulation skills, and imaginative skills (to name a few). Designating time for interactive play with your child each day will enhance your relationship and create wonderful memories.
I hope as you read through these lists you are able to learn something new to help your child’s language skills. Perhaps you learned you are already doing great things to help your child’s language development. I encourage you to use some of these suggestions in your daily play and interactions with your child to help his/her language skills flourish!
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