Author: Benita Adolph, Speech-Language Pathologist, with Ronni Rowland, Writer

The majority of language learning occurs in the early years. That’s why it’s important for parents and caregivers to make communication a priority. “Frequent interaction is important for developing skills during the preverbal and verbal stages,” says Benita Adolph, speech-language pathologist with ELG. “When children gesture, point or speak, the adult’s reaction encourages their behavior.”

Here are five strategies to develop language at home:

1. Offer undivided attention.

Put your phone and computer aside when having meaningful communication. Make eye contact and offer feedback or acknowledge when a child is trying to communicate.  Listen to what they are trying to skill and in turn, cultivate their listening skills.

2. Go big on books.

Read favorite books again and again! Repetition is an effective technique in language learning. Benita notes that “you don’t have to read what is on the page, you can discuss the pictures as well, according to the level of your child. Label animals with younger children, or consider how the characters in the story may be feeling, or with older children, ask what could happen next.”

3. Comment first, then ask questions.

Provide your child with three to four comments before asking a question. For example, “Look at the dog, he’s big, brown, and has floppy ears. How many ears does he have?” 

“By using comments first, you are feeding language into the child’s environment and giving them a model of what to say,” explains Benita. “Asking the question at the end reduces pressure and gives the child an opportunity to contribute.”

4. Play language games.

Rhyming and silly word games are fun and facilitate literacy skills, such as phonological awareness. “Rhyming books and songs are helpful, but you can just make up games on the go,” says Benita. “Create rhyming nicknames for friends (‘Dan the man’), or list words that rhyme with each other (‘let’s think of words that rhyme with cat’).”

5. Create communication temptations.

“Communication temptations” set up a situation where a child has to communicate using gestures or words. For example, put a sealed jar of lollies in sight. When your child realizes they can’t open the jar, they’ll gesture or use words to ask for help. “This is your chance to use comments and model the age-appropriate language you want them to use,” says Benita. “Use a one-word model like ‘open’ or ‘lolly’. If your child is already saying ‘lolly,’ add an extra word like ‘red lolly’ before you give them one.”

Support language development early to set up your child for future success. When children can express themselves and understand others, they are more likely to have positive academic, emotional, and social experiences as they grow.

For more information, or if you have any concerns, feel free to contact ELG at [email protected], and we’ll put you in touch with one of our specialists.