Look Who’s Talking: Language Development

talking to baby
Photo By shurkin_son/shutterstock

It is vital that every child learn how to speak clearly and fluently. The first several years of a child’s life are crucial to the development of language abilities. Experts now believe there are language-learning windows. Some say, “Use it or lose it,” – that if those language pathways in the brain are not consistently used, they will be pruned. If language skills go undeveloped during this time, studies say it may profoundly impact their thinking and learning. Early experiences with the language will set the stage for communication skills that will last a lifetime.

Mastering language is a complex process.

Although there is a wide range of normal, and you can’t actually teach kids how to talk, there are a lot of fun things you can do to promote language development. Those enriching experiences you provide in the home will positively impact the way your child’s language skills develop. And by providing many opportunities to play with language and listening, your child will be a better reader and writer when they do go off to school. So give your child the gift of gab!

Boost babies’ language development.

Babies are sensitive to the rhythms of language through listening to their parents’ voices; for example, corresponding words with actions by talking about their day, where they are, what they are doing, how they are feeling. Play with your baby and talk with them, describing what is happening as it happens. In the supermarket describe the fruits and vegetables. “Look at that big, red, round apple. Yum, I bet it tastes good.” Speak in warm, expressive tones; vary your vocabulary and inflection to expose your baby to a wide range of language. “I see you shaking the pink rattle. Oh, listen to the sounds it makes.”

Even if they don’t catch every word, they learn to listen and learn that there are words for everything – that words are the tool we use to connect with each other. Do not hesitate to use “Motherese” or “parentese,” the slower, singsong, exaggerated speech typically used by caregivers. Studies show it helps babies best learn about language and that they actually prefer it. Babies can understand many words before they can speak. Babies whose caregivers talk to them often have a larger word vocabulary by the age of 2.

Read Next | Helping Parents Understand How Kids Learn to Talk

Toddlers are developing language skills and adding to their ability tremendously.

Build vocabulary and practice listening, remembering and saying words correctly by playing with language and promoting a joyful fascination with words. For toddlers, try using your child’s name. Say something short and funny, but slowly and correctly, enunciating every syllable. “Silly Sam went sailing in the bathtub.” Then prompt your child to repeat it. Don’t correct your child’s pronunciation; simply repeat the words clearly and correctly yourself and expect him to do the same. Have fun with it and play as long as your child shows interest.

Try using words that your toddler is having difficulty with. When they do get it right, give them a high five or “Good Job!” Talk to your child about everything and often as you can. Studies reveal that the amount and quality of language a parent uses are highly predictive of key educational outcomes – particularly literacy skills.

Preschoolers can learn that every object has a name.

Some objects can be classified the same but have different names –which can help enhance vocabulary skills, broaden concepts, and boost emergent literacy. A terrific activity for preschoolers is setting out lots of magazines, old cards, and inexpensive coloring books. Prompt your child to look through and identify things they like best. Have your child pictures out, helping him only if asked. Then ask your child to paste the pictures on large index cards. If possible, help them find more than one of the same things, such as an apple and an orange. Be sure that each card has only one object. Label each one for your child, printing in large block letters. Then ask them to shuffle the cards and match like objects together. Or place the cards face-up on the table and make up a riddle for one of the pictures; for example, “I spy something that is round, red, and good to eat. Ask your child to identify which card answers the riddle.

Through these types of activities, your child will practice recognizing words and realize key pre-literacy skills, giving them a head start for when they go off to kindergarten. Also, your child will be learning important concepts such as color and shape identification.

By offering developmentally appropriate activities, you can boost your young child’s language skills. In fact, you can be an active stimulant when you offer activities like playing rhyming games, reading aloud, and expanding on their interests.

If your child has an affinity for dogs, try introducing books with different breeds and name them together. If they love wordplay, introduce children’s poetry. And experts all agree that speaking to your child often is key to accelerating language acquisition. Be sure to have fun with it, and your child will delight in and build confidence in their new skills.

young girl listening to music
Read Next | The Magic of Music: Language Development and Cognitive Skills in Kids

Dawn Marie Barhyte is a widely published author with over a hundred articles to her credit. A former early childhood educator and co-director who continues to touch the lives of families through her writing! She lives and works in the beautiful Hudson Valley, NY with her beloved husband and rescue chihuahua dachshund.

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