We need to talk about learning

  • Parents should slow down their speech so their child can focus on the words
  • Important your child learns to talk well

You may have heard that all you need to do to build your toddler’s expressive language skills is to talk, talk, talk, talk to your child ... talk to them all the time. Then they will learn the words and sentences they need in order to speak for themselves. However, it is not just constant talking, but talking in an interactive and responsive manner that promotes language learning.

Children who hear more words from their parents do have better language skills and success at school. But recent research is demonstrating that it is not just how much you say to your child that makes a difference; it is actually the ways that you interact and the quality of that interaction that really matter.

It is important that you are making a connection, and paying attention to the same things as the child, so that the child can tune in to what you are saying, thereby learning new words and phrases.

Here are some things you can do to give your toddler a “language boost”.

Follow your child’s lead and respond to it:

• Watch to see what your child is interested in

• Let go of your own plans in the situation, and don’t change the child’s topic

• Play the way your child is playing

• Don’t “test” your child’s knowledge about the topic

• Repeat the child’s words or phrases — make a guess, if you are not sure

Join in, engage and connect with your child:

• Join in and copy what your child is doing

• Help your child to do what they are doing

• Make short comments about what your child is interested in

• Reduce the number of questions and directions that you use

• Show and describe something new about the topic

Use familiar routines: use repetitive, familiar, daily activities:

• Getting dressed

• Playing familiar games

• Outside play

• Bath time

• Reading a book

Language learning is not passive. Children need to hear words within responsive, back-and-forth conversations of social interactions.

They should hear more than the names of objects and people, or the names of colours and numbers. They need to hear words that describe things (eg hot, soft), location words (eg, under, in), action words (eg, jump, splash), question words (eg where? what?) and greeting words (eg, bye-bye).

Parents should use a variety of grammatical sentences, but also shorten, exaggerate, repeat, animate and slow down the pace of their speech so that the child can focus on the words. Using gestures helps to focus the child’s attention and interest, and shows what the word means. Tell stories, sing songs, and use nursery rhymes to encourage language learning.

Parents can make sure that their children’s language learning can get off to a good start by talking and reading with them in interactive and responsive ways.

Submitted by the Bermuda Speech-Language and Audiology Association during National Speech and Hearing Awareness Week, which ends today