Encouraging language development and production

by Hannah Blackwell, M.A., CCC-SLP
Speech-Language Pathologist
Duncan Lake Speech Therapy, LLC

When a child is learning to talk, it’s only natural for the adults around them to want to encourage and help them speak. It’s exciting! We want them to learn new words and start to share their thoughts with the world. As with everything, there are better ways to do this than others. Let’s dive into some tips for encouraging speech production in your child, from an SLP’s perspective!

  1. Instead of: “Say _____”
    Try: Modeling and repetitionTelling your child to say something comes so naturally, because we want to hear them say new words and encourage them to keep using words we’ve heard before. This isn’t the best way to get language out of children, though, as it creates pressure for the child to talk. If they are feeling that communication pressure, it may end up causing them to speak less.A better way to encourage language in your child is to model what you want them to say. If you want them to say the word ball, show them the ball and say “ball!” Then, maybe you roll the ball to them and say “ball.” Then, once they have the ball in their hand, point to it and again say “ball!” Often times, children will repeat after you. However, even if they don’t imitate you, the repetition of the word combined with the object provides great exposure to the word you are trying to encourage and helps build language connections in their brain.
  2. Instead of: only asking questions
    Try: commenting on the things around youAsking your child questions is another natural way of communicating and is often what we go to when we want young children to answer. However, if the child doesn’t know the answer to the question, they may not speak at all. Asking questions can also sometimes create communication pressure if the child feels they can’t pull the words out of their brain.Instead of asking a bunch of questions to your child, try commenting on what you are asking about instead. If you want to ask the question “What do you see?” try instead offering what you see: “I see a big green tree!” This not only provides a model of the response you expect from your child, but it also provides an opportunity for you to model new language for them. This doesn’t mean that you can’t ask questions at all, it just means try to use comments more than questions. A good general rule of thumb is to use at least 3 comments for every question.
  3.  Instead of: just repeating what your child says
    Try: adding to what your child saysRepeating what your child says is a wonderful strategy to use, as it acknowledges what they said and shows the beginnings of back-and-forth communication that occurs in conversation. A better way of using this strategy, though, is to expand on what your child says rather than only repeating after them. For example, if your child says “eat” when they are hungry, you could respond with “It’s time to eat” or “Yes, eat. You must be hungry.” Or if your child says “dog” when they see a dog, you could say “I see a big, brown dog.” Doing this continues the benefits of repeating after the child, showing that you understood what they said, while also providing a model for new language they could use along with the language they already said.

There are so many ways we can encourage language production at home. Some strategies not mentioned above include reading aloud to your child, talking with your child through your daily tasks, teaching sign language, and using songs and nursery rhymes, all of which are great ways to help encourage communication and language development in children. These things are just a few ways we can help our little ones grow in their speech and language.

For more information on early language development and what parents can do to encourage language development, check out the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association’s page on “How Does Your Child Hear and Talk?”: https://www.asha.org/public/speech/development/chart/.

 

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