All posts by Kinedu

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.

Receptive language: What your two-year-old really understands

Your two-year-old’s language development is blooming. He now probably has an active vocabulary of approximately 50 or more words, and understands most of what you say to him. This is called receptive language or the ability to understand the meaning behind words. Specifically, at this age most children understand between 200 and 300 words, adding as much as 10 new words a day. By the time he turns three, the number of words your little one understands will probably be around 900. These will include adjectives, common verbs and prepositions like over and under.

Children’s receptive language develops when they gain information from their environment (like their routine, visual cues, sounds, spoken words, written words, and more). They are constantly absorbing and learning. The building blocks for receptive language are attention and concentration, communicating through gestures, social and play skills (engagement in self-motivated activities).

Feel like your little one does not understand what you say to him? Try the following to develop his receptive language:
• Be face-to-face and make eye-contact with your child before giving him an instruction, making sure you have his attention.
• When talking to your little one, use words just a little bit more advanced than his expressive language or the words he normally uses.
• Use body language and facial expressions as visual aids to help your little one comprehend what you’re trying to say.
• Reduce distractions by turning off any background noise when you are talking, like the television or music.
• Encourage your little one to ask for you to clarify or repeat what you said if he doesn’t understand it at first.

You now know your little one understands most of what you say! So, it’s a good idea to keep this in mind when you are talking about him when he is around.

Literacy development: The importance of phonological awareness

Between 3 to 5 years old, a preschooler’s literacy abilities begin to develop, laying the bases for later reading and academic abilities. Experts state that the most important ability for literacy development is the phonological awareness, in other words the ability to recognize the individual sound units that make up words. Acquiring phonetic awareness builds the foundation for reading and spelling. It’s considered one of the best predictors of how well children will learn to read.

Once your child is able to distinguish the individual sounds she hears, then she will be able to relate them to their visual representation in the form of a letter or word. Therefore, instead of teaching your daughter the names for the letters in the alphabet, teach her the different sounds for each of them. This will be more beneficial for her literacy development. For example, say “aah” instead of just calling the letter an “A”.

There are a lot of short and fun phonetic word games you can try at home to help your little one isolate and discern the individual sounds that make up words. For example:
• Practice isolating phonemes by having her tell you the individual sounds she hears in words. Keep in mind that we’re not focusing on spelling, but the sounds that make up words instead. The word dog would have three sounds: /d/, /o/, /g/.
• A more advanced game would be to switch out the first sound of a word to make a new one. For example, switch the sound /m/ in mat for a /k/ to form the word cat.
• Get in the habit of coming up with rhyming words. Try it during a car ride or when waiting in line at the supermarket. This can be a fun way to pass the time and it will enhance your child’s phonological awareness.
• Help your little girl think of a number of words that start with the same sound. For example, mention words that start with the /m/ sound like mat, make and more.
• Read books with rhymes. They are entertaining and children this age love them! 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.

Pattern recognition: The key to language development

A study from the University of Sydney and the Australian National University found that children’s language development is linked to their ability to recognize patterns in their environment. In other words, children who were better at identifying visual patterns had a better grasp on grammar.

The studied 68 children, between 6 and 8 years old, and assessed them on two separate tasks: grammatical knowledge and visual pattern learning. Researchers found a strong connection between children who were able to identify patterns in a cartoon sequence on a computer and those who scored higher on the grammar test.

This proves that children have an amazing learning capacity. Without being consciously aware of it, their brains are continuously absorbing and calculating patterns or statistics. In the case of language development, they analyze which words follow others regularly, the context in which they are used, etc. This study is important because it lays the groundwork for understanding language development and grammar as a learnt skill, not something we are born with. This explains why children acquire language at different rates.

There are a lot of simple everyday things that you can do at home to help your little one learn to identify patterns. For example, when you dress him for the day, notice the patterns on his clothes: “You’re wearing stripes today!”. You can also create a pattern while walking: “Step. Step. Stop. Step. Step. Stop”. Have your little one make his own patterns using different materials like playdough, crayons or even cereal!

Patterns are all around us. Get in the habit of pointing them out to your little one and soon he will be finding them by himself! This will in turn boost his language development.

How music helps boost language development

We emphasize a lot about the importance of reading to children to develop their language skills, but sometimes we forget to consider the incredible benefits that music and singing also provide. Studies have shown that the brain areas responsible for understanding music and language are closely connected.

According to Sally Goddard Blythe, director of the Institute for Neuro-Physiological Psychology, singing lullabies and nursery rhymes to infants before they learn to speak can lead to future educational success and emotional well-being. She identifies singing as speech all on its own; a special kind of speech that carries the inflections of children’s primary language and therefore prepares a child for its acquisition.

It has been proven that traditional songs enhance a child’s ability to think in words, and that when they are listening to and singing along to them they are actively using and developing both brain hemispheres. Singing songs with your child will also teach him about tone and rhythm. Therefore, it’s even better if you dance along to the music –so that your little one practices his coordination, balance and body awareness. When it comes to playing musical instruments, benefits towards language development are also present. A child who learns to play an instrument may actually have better reading comprehension skills than one who doesn’t.

Singing to your baby and exposing him to music will help develop language skills such as auditory discrimination, vocabulary development and auditory memory. The first refers to the ability to differentiate sounds in a native language. Since babies first learn the sounds of a language and then the meaning behind the words, hearing the same songs over and over again can help with that. Singing is also a great way to help your little one to learn new words and expand his vocabulary. Whether they’re songs about the school bus or the different body parts, remembering the lyrics will help your child discover new aspects of language.

My little one stutters, should I be concerned?

A lot of parents worry when their child stutters, but such concern is unnecessary. It’s actually quite common for children around the age of two or three to stutter by repeating sounds, syllables or even words sometimes. In fact, approximately 5% of all children are likely to sttuter at some point. It usually happens between the ages of two and a half and five, and children can even go back and forth between periods of fluency and disfluency. Most children don’t even realize they are speaking incorrectly and then just grow out of it after some time.

When is it considered actual stuttering?
When this behavior persists over two to three months and it doesn’t let your little one communicate effectively, then it’s considered stuttering. It’s three times more common in boys than in girls and the cause is unknown. Look out for the following signs:
• Repeating sounds or syllables (for example, “b-b-banana”)
• Sound prolongations (for example, “sssssssounds good”)
• Trying to make a sound that doesn’t come out, or a physical struggle when speaking
• Behaviors that go along with speaking difficulty (for example, eye blinking)
• Frustration or negative feelings towards speaking
• A family history of stuttering
• Disfluencies lasting longer than 6 months

Getting professional help early on gives children the best chance for reducing stuttering. Talk to your pediatrician about it and he or she will be able to recommend a speech-language professional to assess and help your little one. In the meantime, the best approach is to ignore the stuttering when your kid talks. The less frustrated he becomes with talking, the better. So, don’t correct him or finish sentences for him. Be patient and listen to what he has to say. Demonstrate that you are accepting towards your little one and build self-esteem by praising other activities he does correctly around the house.

Your three-year-old’s linguistic development

At around age three, children have an active vocabulary consisting of 300 or more words. In fact, the average child has the capacity to acquire four to six words per day, given access to new words in daily experiences. At this age, conversational skills flourish as well, as kids are now able to talk in sentences of three to four words and imitate speech sounds.

Your little girl’s new language skills allow her to express her thoughts. The more advanced they are, the more she’ll be able to communicate and learn. These new language skills bring on new discoveries because of the many “why,” “what” and “how” questions your little one is now able to ask.  For example, when she doesn’t know the word for something, she’ll be able to ask “What’s this?” and you’ll be able to provide an answer, continuing to expand her vocabulary.

Three-year-olds are still learning to properly use pronouns like “me” and “you”. Granted, they are simple words to pronounce, but they are difficult concepts to grasp, and the terms change depending on who’s talking. Lead by example and use those words correctly in your speech so that your little one can imitate you. At this age, your daughter’s speech will be much clearer, so much so that even strangers will be able to understand what she is saying. Before, you might have noticed that you were the only one who could understand what she was trying to communicate.

You can stimulate your little one’s linguistic skills by singing, rhyming and talking about what you are doing together. Reading books is also a great idea! Choose books that have a simple plot and talk about the story line with your child. Once you are done reading, help your child retell the story and talk about your favorite parts. You can work on language comprehension by asking questions related to the story.

Your two-year-old’s linguistic development

Around his second birthday, your little one will understand most of what you say and his vocabulary will increase significantly, starting with fifty or more words. During this year, he’ll begin speaking in more complete sentences, made up of four to six words, but you’ll probably need to “translate” what he says to others due to immature pronunciation skills. With an increased vocabulary comes a better use of language to express ideas and desires –make sure to listen to them! An advance in language skills also brings on new discoveries because of the many “why,” “what” and “how” questions your little one is now able to ask.

Although it is tempting, try to avoid comparing your child’s verbal abilities to other children his age. This is a time with great variation. For some children, language develops at a steady rate and for others it doesn’t. Some children are more talkative than others, but it doesn’t mean that they are smarter or have a richer vocabulary, it simply means that quieter children are more selective when speaking. These variations tend to even out around the time children start school.

If you’re worried about your child’s language development, talk to your pediatrician about it. He or she will first want to rule out any physical problems that might be delaying language acquisition like fluid buildup in your little one’s ears or trouble coordinating the mouth and throat muscles. One in every ten to fifteen children has trouble with speech or language comprehension. Early detection of a language delay or hearing problem is very important, so that it doesn’t hinder learning in other areas of development.

Help boost your child’s language skills by including reading time in your daily routine. This is also a great bonding activity, because you can cuddle up and share a book together. At this age, your little one will be able to follow a simple storyline and even remember parts of the story.

The best way to read with your 3-year-old

Preschoolers love books and learn from sharing them with you. Reading together and talking about books will not only build your little one’s vocabulary, it’ll provide special one-on-one quality time that strengthens the bond between you guys.

It’s a great idea to make reading part of your daily routine –perhaps before bedtime. Depending on your child’s age, you can focus on different aspects of the reading experience to get the most out of it. Here are a few examples of what your child can do at three years old and what you can do to maximize the reading experience!

At three years old:
Your child can: At this stage, your little one can tell you the name of the story he wants to read. He might also like to pretend he’s reading out loud to you. He’ll probably ask a lot of questions about the story and tell you how it is similar to his life. He might have a favorite book and be able to tell you his version of it and even “correct” you if you skip a page or say a different word while reading.

You can: Find a quiet, cozy place where you and your child can cuddle up and read together. Ask your little one to participate by telling you about the pictures in the story. While reading, pay attention to your child’s cues and respond with excitement to his questions or comments. Read joyfully, using different tones of voice for each character. You can also talk about emotions, what are the different characters feeling? Finally, ask your child to point out all of the things in a picture that are similar in some way –for example, look for shapes and colors.