Language milestones: learning to use verbs

A child’s first words normally consist of nouns –whether it’s mama, dada or ball– because they represent a person or thing. During their second year however, children usually begin incorporating verbs or action words like go, come and play to their vocabulary.

This is an important milestone for language development because it means that a child is ready to begin building early sentences. There’s a lot of variability when it comes to language acquisition and how many verbs children use when they are 2-3 years old. Regularly, children can say at least a few verbs by the time they turn two and this number increases continually.

Here are a few things you can do to make sure your son’s growing vocabulary includes verbs:
1. Keep track of the verbs your child already understands and says. Making a list is a good idea! That way, you can emphasize the verbs he is still learning and keep track of the ones he already uses.
2. Think of things your little one likes to do and the action words that describe them. Then use those words while doing that activity! For example, if he likes to play with blocks, you can use the words build, topple and fall to describe what he’s doing.
3. When you do an action use the verb in a sentence. Remember that verbs are action words and that means you can actually show your son what they mean. This will help him understand and remember the word.
4. Repeat those words a lot! Children need to hear new words many times before they begin to use them themselves. Try to use new verbs several times when completing an activity, and then use it again the next time you do that same activity. It’s important to be constant!
5. Emphasize verbs when reading a story. When you’re reading together, try to emphasize the actions that the characters are doing and talk to your little one about them.

How to help your little one learn new words

Research shows that the number of words used by a child is directly related to later academic success. So, having a broad vocabulary can help your little one be prepared for school and life in general! Around age two, children’s vocabulary expands significantly, reaching up to fifty or more words. Then, by age three, they have an active lexicon of three hundred or more words since, in average, a child has the capacity to acquire from four to six words per day.

Want to help your daughter learn new words? Here’s a few things you can try in your daily interactions:
• Let her take the lead: When you’re interacting with her, first, observe what she’s doing and what she’s interested in. Then, wait for her to communicate with you and, finally, listen actively to what she’s saying. She’ll be more motivated to interact when she gets to start a conversation.
• Follow her lead: Once she’s communicated what she’s interested in, follow her lead and respond accordingly. Comment on what she has to say or join in on the fun yourself!
• Use gestures: Gestures are a great tool for learning new words. When you use them, it helps your daughter see and understand the meaning of certain words.
• Read: Reading books is a perfect way to expand her vocabulary. While you’re reading, make connections between what’s happening in the story and your child’s life. Also, after you’ve encountered a new word in a book, use it again during the day. That way, she will begin to remember it.
• Talk about abstract things: Talk to your toddler about her feelings, past experiences or even imaginary things. Be creative and go beyond what’s right in front of your eyes.

With time and practice you’ll get to the point where you’ll want to slow your little chatterbox down for a bit. Never stop being amazed by her development!

Speech sounds that might be hard to pronounce

As children develop their language skills, they learn how to pronounce different sounds. Some of those are harder than others, and it’s normal for little kids to have difficulty saying certain words correctly.

Speech develops over time and with a lot of practice! That’s part of the whole process. So, if you notice your little one is having trouble pronouncing a specific sound, there’s probably nothing to worry about. Most children learn to pronounce all word sounds correctly by the time they turn 8 years old (so there’s still a lot of time for your son to get it right!).

It may be harder for you to understand what your child is saying if he’s having trouble pronouncing certain phonemes (the particular sounds that make up words). Commonly, some of the difficult sounds to master are:
• L
• S
• R
• Ch
• Sh
• Th
It’s common for children to swap sounds in words that contain sounds they can’t pronounce. For example, your little one might say “wed” instead of “red” or “dea” instead of “tea”. This can make it difficult for you or others to understand what he is trying to say and that, in turn can, be very frustrating for your son. Try your best to figure out what he’s trying to say and don’t correct him every time –he’ll get even more frustrated and maybe become reluctant to speak up later on. The best thing you can do is be a good role model: speak slowly and clearly so that your little one can learn by listening to you.

Facts about learning a second language

Children can learn to speak more than one language at the same time. Being bilingual has many advantages. This includes having a broader vocabulary, having better literacy skills, being able to categorize words, being better at problem solving, and even listening to and connecting with others. Speaking two languages is just like learning any other skill. You need practice to master it!

Sometimes children can speak both languages with ease, or they may have one they know better: their dominant language. As time passes, the dominant language can switch. For example, it’s common for kids who speak one language at home to switch to the one they teach at school as their dominant language once they begin attending classes.

Some people believe that learning a second language could confuse their child, or hinder their language development. That is not the case at all! In fact, most language milestones are met at the same time when comparing children who learn one or two languages. Like other little ones, most bilingual children speak their first words by the time they turn one. By age two, they use two-word phrases.

When a child has a speech or language disorder, it shows up in both languages. They are not caused by learning another language and they don’t make them worse either. It’s common for bilingual children to get grammar rules mixed up, or use words from both languages in one sentence. This is a normal part of being bilingual and it just means it’s harder for others to understand what they are saying.

If your child is learning two languages, be patient, make sure he gets lots of practice and be constant. You should speak to your little one in your dominant language, so that you can be a superb role model.

How to encourage my little one’s language development

Children learn about language through everyday moments with you, their caregiver. Reading books, engaging in conversations and playing help, but what can you do specifically to support your little one’s language development?

Language skills start developing very early. From birth, babies communicate through sounds and facial expressions. Then they move on to babbling and doing gestures, like pointing to what they specifically want. Babies don’t need to be formally taught anything, they learn through imitation and back and forth interactions with their caregivers.

This is also true for early language and literacy skills, they are best learned through everyday moments. Here’s what you can do at home:
• Beginning with the most obvious, but probably the most important one: talk together. Talking with your daughter will increase her vocabulary and help her practice speaking in sentences. Talk during every day routines like when running errands together or taking a walk outside.
• When talking, encourage your child to share her point of view by asking open-ended questions that require more than a “yes/no” answer. For example, if you see a bird take flight you could say, “Look at that bird fly! Where do you think it’s going?”.
• Respond to her words with more words. Help your little one build her sentences. For example, if she says “Go play!”. You can respond and say “Yes, let’s go play! Do you want to go outside?”.
• Get your daughter to do things by herself and try new tasks while you coach her through it. For example, you can ask her to help you put away her clean laundry.
• Tell your child stories. Whether you’re reading a book she chose, or you’re just making up a story as you go, include details like when and where is the story going on and who is involved?
• Get rhyming! Whether you’re making up rhymes, singing a song or reading a poem together, rhymes train children’s ears to hear the specific sounds that make up words, an important step for literacy development.

Language milestones: Speaking in sentences

Your little one’s first words were probably extremely exciting. Even more so, listening to his first attempts to put them together and form a sentence. This is a huge milestone in his language development. From two to six-word sentences, find out what’s coming up for your child’s linguistic development and when to expect it.

Between 18 and 24 months, most children begin putting two words together to form a phrase. For example, you might have listened to your little one say “Mommy go” or “My ball”. Whatever phrase he put together, he probably loved repeating it over and over –attempting to get his message across very clearly. But since his pronunciation still had a long way to go, about half of what he said was hard to understand.

Now, you can expect your two-year-old to add a variety of words to his vocabulary and use them in sentences too. Those sentences may now come in the form of questions like “Go play?”. The preschool years come with huge leaps in language development. By the time they turn four, most children can string sentences made up of three to six words. These are now simple, but complete sentences. Their speech is much clearer, making it easier for even strangers to understand most of what they say.

Want to help your little one learn to speak in longer sentences? Try the following tips:
• First, begin by cutting out the baby talk. Instead, speak clearly, using simple but real words so that your son can imitate you.
• Give him lots of opportunities to speak up. Include him in your conversations and ask him open-ended questions about his day, his likes, dislikes, etc.
• Actually listen to what he has to say and then respond accordingly. Be patient, don’t interrupt him or finish his sentences.
• Add on to whatever he says. For example, if he says “Go play!”, you can respond and say “Yes, let’s go play! Do you want to go outside?”. Respond to his words with more words

5 simple ways to teach communication skills

Communicate correctly means being able to connect and share ideas and feelings with others. This can be applied to either verbal or non-verbal communication. At an early age, children learn to interact with loved ones and how to communicate their wants and needs so they can be met by their caregivers. This then evolves into getting their ideas across.

Your daughter’s communication skills develop exponentially during the first years of life, especially if she is getting help from caring adults around her. Here are five things you can do yourself to help her communicate better:
1. Talk with your daugther and listen to her when you do. Make eye-contact and help build on her language skills by asking open-ended questions to encourage her to keep sharing her thoughts.
2. Respect and recognize your child’s feelings and ideas. She’ll be more open to share her thoughts if she feels safe and knows that she won’t be judged or criticized. Keep in mind that you can empathize with your child’s feelings, but disagree with her behavior.
3. Ask your little girl questions about her day. This will let her know that you genuinely care about her and want to hear her opinion. You can even get in the habit of doing this every night, recap the day’s events and talk to your daughter about how she felt throughout the day.
4. If you haven’t already, add a reading time to your daily routine. When reading, encourage your little one to repeat a few words and phrases and talk about the plotline and pictures in the story. She might be curious and ask simple questions about the book, like “What’s that?”.
5. Be a good role model for your daughter. She’s watching you closely and learning from you. Talk to others with respect and she will follow your lead. Model good communication skills like listening when someone else is talking and then commenting on what they said.

The special power of rhymes

If you’ve ever sang a nursery rhyme to your son like Baa, Baa, Black Sheep, then you’ve unconsciously been preparing your little one for learning to read.

Words that share a common sound, or rhyme, can be used to teach children about phonemes (the individual sound units in words) and spelling. Take for example, the “-at” family: mat, cat and hat. Your little one can learn to identify that they all end with the same sound. Phonological awareness is considered the first step towards learning to read and write because with it a child can discern the differences between individual sounds. The great thing is that rhymes are not only fun, but they train children’s ears to hear the differences and similarities between word’s sound. By identifying different phonemes, they learn how sounds combine and blend together to form a word.

Research has found that children who have been sung nursery rhymes and are familiar with them by the time they enter kindergarten often have an easier time learning to read. This may be because rhyming helps children discover the common patterns that exist within words, making it easier for them to recognize them when they see them in print.

The great thing is that rhymes are actually fun to teach! Consider trying some of these activities with your little one:
• Sing all the time! You can come up with songs for different moments of your day – like brushing your teeth or getting dressed. If they rhyme –even better!
• Get into the rhythm of it. Add rhythmic clapping or specific movements to your songs. This will help your little one remember the words of the song because he will be able to connect the movement with the words.
• Get in the habit of coming up with rhyming words when you’re passing the time. Try it during a car ride or when waiting in line at the supermarket. For example, try the “-og” family: dog, log, and what can come next? Get your child to help you out!
• Finally, don’t forget to add rhyming books to your son’s library. Look for books that are fun to read out loud and are easy to memorize. After you’ve read it a couple of times, your little one will be able to join in on the fun and help you finish sentences from the story.

Learning the rules of language

You might have noticed that your little girl has begun speaking using (almost) proper grammar. This probably happened naturally; most children learn the rules of their language through use, without any formal instruction.

Children learn the specific dialect spoken by the people they are surrounded with. They learn not only by imitation, but also by working through the rules on their own by trial and error. This is demonstrated when a child uses a linguistic rule incorrectly, in a way that adults never use. For example, your little one might turn and say “I goed to the park.” But don’t fuss about it –children eventually learn the correct way of speaking as they sort out by themselves the rules and exceptions of their language.

Your daughter probably speaks using four to six-word sentences and she is learning to use pronouns like “I”, “you” and “they”. They may seem like simple words, but they actually are pretty complex concepts to grasp because they mark a difference between her and others. Then, the terms change depending on who is using them! That’s tough. With time your little one will practice and learn every rule, until speaking comes naturally. Help her out by using pronouns correctly when you talk. For example, instead of saying “Mommy is very proud!” say “I am very proud!”. Not only will this help your little one learn how to speak using pronouns, but she’ll see you as an individual, separate from your special role as Mommy.

Other simple things you can do at home to boost your little girl’s language development are reading every day and singing nursery rhymes. They have both been positively associated with language acquisition and comprehension. It’s never too late to make them a part of your daily routine.

Detecting a language delay

The preschool years are a time of great variation when it comes to language acquisition. For some children, language develops at a steady rate and for others it doesn’t. Some children are more talkative than others, but that doesn’t mean that they are smarter or have a richer vocabulary. It simply means that quieter children are more selective when speaking. These differences in language development tend to even out around the time children reach school age, but sometimes that is not the case and a language delay could be present.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, by 2 years of age most toddlers will:
• Point to many body parts and common objects
• Point to pictures in books
• Follow single commands without needing an illustrative gesture, like “Pick up your shoes”
• Be able to say between 50 to 100 words
• Say several 2-word phrases like “Daddy go” and “All gone”
• Might say a few 3-word sentences like “I want water” or “You go bye-bye”
• Be understood by others about half of the time

When children have problems with their receptive language (understanding words), they may have trouble understanding what gestures mean, have trouble following directions, answering questions, pointing to objects and pictures, and knowing how to take turns when talking with others. On the other hand, when children have problems with their expressive language (with talking), they may have trouble asking questions, naming objects, using gestures, speaking in sentences, learning songs and rhymes, using correct pronouns, carrying out a conversation, and changing how they talk to different people in different places. Many children have problems with both understanding and talking.

Language delays are sometimes temporary and they may go away on their own with time and help from friends and family. Encourage your little one to talk to you and be patient with him. If you’re worried about your son’s language development, talk to your pediatrician about it. The doctor will first want to rule out any physical problems that might be delaying language acquisition, like a hearing problem. Then, they might recommend visiting a professional like a speech-language pathologist who can help your little one learn to communicate.