Written by Veronica Montanaro;
Veronica studied Communication Therapy at undergraduate level at the University of Malta. She was awarded an M.Sc in Language and Communication Impairments in Children with the University of Sheffield in 2014. Her research study, Young Children and iPads: A Developmental Perspective, focused on the way young children use touchscreen technology. Veronica forms part of the European Cooperation in Science and Technology network (also known as COST Action). They are currently working on a research project entitled Play for children with disability. She is also committee member of ACAMH and is currently the service co-ordinator for the Team for the Assessment of Attention and Social Communication (TAASC), a multidisciplinary team within the private sector.
PROMOTING LANGUAGE DEVELOPMENT
During the first five years, stimulation of language development is critical but language development continues throughout early childhood. Language acquisition depends on a number of factors. These include your child’s innate abilities, the way in which people respond to them when they try to talk, their exposure to language, and what other skills they are learning at the same time.
Watching a young child develop language can be quite exciting, interesting and fun. What children say offers a window into their thinking. Language is essential to young children’s development. It is the fundamental key for communication, building relationships with others, for learning and for making sense of the world around them.
When should we expect our child to develop speech and language skills?
No two children follow the exact same timeline when it comes to learning how to talk. Still, there are some general milestones you can look out for as your child begins to talk.
Most babies will say their first words between nine and 18 months. The most common first words are ‘mama’ and ‘dada’. By the age of 18 months a child usually has a vocabulary of 5 to 20 words. They will have a burst of language development before they turn two, and begin to join words together by two and a half years. Most three year olds will use three to four word sentences and be understood by familiar adults most of the time. By four, children will use four to five word sentences, use grammar correctly most of the time, and be understood by most people. It’s normal for your child to make mistakes as they work out the sounds and structures of language.
What can you do to stimulate your child’s language development?
- Get face-to-face: You and your child can connect more easily and share the moment.
- Talk about what the child is doing or looking at: Following the child’s lead provides a strong signal that you are interested in what the child is doing. It increases the likelihood of your language being focused on the child’s point of interest and helps the child to sustain his concentration.
- Model the words: Describe what the child is doing or look at using short, simple sentences which are 2 or 3 words longer than the sentences the child would use spontaneously. If the language matches the child’s interest, he or she is more likely to listen and absorb the information.
- Repeat what the child says but use correctly structured and articulated sentences.
- Expand: Repeat what the child says but add 1 or 2 words either at the end of the sentence or within the sentence.
- Use books: Read to your child often. It will build his/her vocabulary. Books motivate children to communicate and when parents respond to what the child is interested in, it helps the child learn new words.
- Sort and classify objects: This strengthens the links between words. It also provides an opportunity to learn category names e.g. ‘fruit’, ‘clothes’. Name every item as it is sorted. Initially sort categories that are very different e.g. clothes and vehicles. Later sort items into more similar groups such as farm and zoo animals.
- Have fun and play with your child
When should you seek advice?
It is important to seek the advice of a speech and language pathologist if you notice that:
– Your baby has difficulty sucking, chewing, swallowing or biting food
– Your baby does not seem to listen to you, enjoy sounds or respond to them
– Your baby isn’t using words by 18 months
– You baby has limited eye contact, lack of attention and focus
– Your toddler is frustrated by not being able to speak to others
– Your toddler has trouble understanding what you say
– You toddler says fewer than 50 words by two years.
– Your toddler isn’t trying to make sentences by two and a half years
– Your child drools or mispronounces words
– Your child has a history of ear infections along with pronunciation problems.
What to do if you are concerned about your child’s speech and language development?
If you are worried about any aspect or stage of your child’s speech and language development, do not ignore it. Some minor speech issues disappear as your child becomes more skilled at talking, but some difficulties may require professional attention.
You can send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any questions about your child’s speech and language development.
Where can you read more about language development?
Bishop (1997), Uncommon Understanding. Development and Disorders of Language Comprehension in Children.
Buckley, B. (2003) The Children’s Communication Skills – From Birth to Five Years. London: Routledge Falmer. Riley, J. (2006) Language and Literacy 3–7. London: PCP. Sage, R. (2006) Supporting Language and Communication: A Guide for School Support Staff. London: PCP.
Pepper, J. & Weitzman, E. (2004). It Takes Two to Talk®: A practical guide for parents of children with language delays (2nd ed.). Toronto: The Hanen Centre
McLachlan, H., Elks, L. (2009) Early Language Builders; advise and activities to encourage pre-school children’s communication skills. Elklan, Cornwall.