Language development is an important part of child development, and the first five years of life – when the brain is developing and maturing the most rapidly – are the most intensive period for acquiring speech and language skills. If this critical period is allowed to pass without exposure to language, it will be more difficult to learn.
Language development supports your child’s ability to communicate as well as their ability to:
- express and understand feelings
- think and learn
- solve problems
- develop and maintain relationships.
Communication begins right at birth when an infant learns that a cry will bring food, comfort, or companionship.
The best way to encourage your child’s language development is to expose them to a lot of language! The following are some ways to do this.
Talk with your child
From birth, talk with your child and treat them as a talker. Studies have shown that children of talkative parents have twice the vocabulary as those of quiet parents. The key is to use many different words in different contexts. You can talk to them about what they’re doing and narrate your activities together, describe the environment around them, discuss plans for the day, remember a story that you read or something that happened. The options are endless!
With infants, speak slowly using exaggerated syllables, one- or two- syllable words and two to three-word sentences. Slowly build on this as your child’s vocabulary expands. In general, it is recommended to use the correct word for things instead of baby words. Use gestures (such as baby sign language) to help emphasize words and give them meaning.
Talking to infants in a singsong, high-pitched voice, called "parentese” is a universal method for enhancing language development. Sing with your child frequently as rhyming songs are easier for them to remember. You can use songs to communicate things like getting ready for bed, time to clean up, etc. Make up songs that are silly or that communicate affirmations related to their positive qualities.
When you finish talking, pause and give your child a turn to respond. As your child starts to coo, gurgle, wave and point, you can respond to your child’s attempts to communicate. For example, if your baby coos and gurgles, you can coo back to them. Or if your toddler points to a toy, respond as if your child is saying, ‘Can I have that?’ For example, you could say ‘Do you want the block?’. When your child starts using words, you can repeat and build on what your child says. For example, if your child says, ‘Apple,’ you can say, ‘You want a red apple?’. This is also a gentle way to repeat words correctly that the child has mispronounced, rather than criticizing them.
When you pay attention and respond to your child in these ways, it encourages them to keep communicating and developing their language skills.
As they grow older, you can offer more open ended questions or make up stories along with your child where each contributes. This not only stimulates language, but thinking, creating, and a sense of humor. Gradually increase the complexity of grammar and vocabulary you use to communicate.
Having family meetings or dinner together at the table can encourage conversation. You can use “Thorns & Roses” by each family member sharing one thing that went wrong and one thing that well during the day. Keep these moments free of electronics to avoid distractions and interruptions.
Read with your child
Reading and sharing books about plenty of different topics lets your child hear words used in many different ways. You can start reading aloud to your baby as early as you like – the earlier the better. Your baby will love being held in your arms, listening to your voice, hearing rhyme and rhythm, and looking at pictures.
Reading and sharing stories can:
- help your child get to know sounds, words and language, and develop early literacy skills
- learn to value books and stories
- spark your child’s imagination and stimulate curiosity
- help develop your child’s brain, ability to focus, concentration, social skills and communication skills
- help your child learn the difference between ‘real’ and ‘make-believe’
- help your child understand new or frightening events, and the strong emotions that come with them
- help your child learn about the world, their own culture and other cultures.
As a broad rule, young children often enjoy books, songs and stories that have good rhyme, rhythm and repetition. In fact, one of the ways that children learn is through repetition and rhyme. This is why we have aimed to implement rhyme and rhythm in our Story Book collection, to the extent possible. Choose books that are the right length for your child and that match your child’s changing interests, and be prepared to read them over and over!
Sharing stories with your child doesn’t mean you have to read from the book. If you like, you can talk about the pictures in the book instead of reading the words. In fact, we encourage our Picture Book collection to be used as a conversational tool or a prop for interactive activities, rather than a book that is read word-for-word. Could you and your child make up a story together? Check out our Instagram page for more ideas and activities using our books!
Linking what’s in the book to what’s happening in your child’s life is a good way to get your child talking. For example, you could say, ‘We went to the playground today, just like the boy in this book. What do you like to do at the playground?’ You can also encourage talking by chatting about interesting pictures in the books you read with your child.
As their communication skills advance, read interactively to engage their participation. Ask questions, use dramatic inflections, let them guess what will happen next, point to pictures and describe them, and ask your child to do the same. When they finish a book, ask about their thoughts and feelings.