Category Archives: Linguistic

Tips for having meaningful conversations with your child

You talk to your daughter every day, some would say all day! But how much of that talk makes up meaningful conversations? A conversation is a back and forth exchange between two or more people. Your little one says something and first you listen. Then, you respond while she listens. You give her time to respond and so on and so forth in a serve and return pattern. Conversations can be about anything at all –from her favorite character to your plans for the weekend. The important thing is to talk with your daughter, and not just at her.

Having meaningful conversations with your child will build her confidence and self-esteem because she’ll learn that you care about her and are interested in her thoughts and feelings. She’ll also learn to become an effective communicator while building her vocabulary and language skills. Here are a few tips to get those conversations going:

• Find time to talk to your daughter without any distractions around (cellphone included!). Give her your undivided attention.
• If you are in the middle of something and your little one wants your attention, try and stop what you’re doing to listen. A few minutes of your full attention will go a long way.
• Be patient. Give her time to respond. A quiet pause will give her time to organize her thoughts and get back to you.
• Have a special time during the day when you talk in a meaningful way and are conscious about it. Talking about your day can become a part of your bedtime routine, for example.
• Keep an eye on your child’s body language and facial expressions to really comprehend what she’s trying to say.
• Respect her thoughts and feelings. Regardless if you think she is right or wrong, listen and respond letting her know you hear her.
• Ask open-ended questions that require more than a simple yes or no answer, and do the same with your responses, practice saying more than that yourself!

Boys’ and girls’ brains process language differently

It’s not uncommon to hear that, usually, girls have superior linguistic skills than boys, and for some time it wasn’t clear why or how their brains differed. In 2008, researchers were able to study brain activity in girls and boys and the results showed that the brain areas associated with language work harder in girls during language tasks because, in fact, they rely on different parts of the brain to complete these tasks.

This study, conducted by researchers from Northwestern University, provided clear biological evidence of the differences in language processing between girls and boys. Researchers measured brain activity in 31 boys and 31 girls between the ages of 9 to 15, while they performed language tasks like spelling and writing. Sometimes, the tasks were visually presented and the children had to read the words, and sometimes the cues were auditory. The found that girls’ language areas of the brain were significantly more active than boys’. Meanwhile, in the boys’ brains they found that their visual and auditory cortex were doing most of the work. Their findings suggest that language processing is more sensory based for boys, and more abstract for girls.

Other studies point out that girls’ brains have sort of a “head start” on language development because their left hemisphere (where most people’s language center lies) develops before the right. For boys though, it’s reversed, their right hemisphere develops first. Girls talk earlier than boys, have larger vocabularies when they reach preschool and they use more complex sentences. Once they reach school age, girls are normally one to one-and-a-half years ahead of boys in reading and writing skills. The list of differences goes on and on. Keep in mind that these studies focus on group averages, and what could be true for that group might not be true for every individual.

With this in mind, you could pay special attention to fostering your son’s language skills early on. Experiences play a huge role on how the brain is wired, especially in the first years of life. Take a look at other articles about this topic to get ideas on how to encourage language development at home.

Language milestones: others can understand what my daughter says!

There was probably a point in which you were the only one that could decipher what your little one was trying to say –it might even have been not so long ago! With time and practice, your daughter’s pronunciation is getting better and better, making it easier for other people to understand her!

This milestone, like many others, is reached gradually –it’s not like people will be able to understand what your little one is trying to say overnight. For most children, this happens around their third birthday, but there is a lot of variation when it comes to language development at this age, so you may notice it evolving before or after that. This milestone is not only exciting for you and the people who can now understand your kid, it’s important because it plays a key role on a social and emotional level as well. Being able to communicate with the rest of the world will open doors for her and a lot of learning will come with that!

If your daughter is having trouble getting her message out to the rest of the world, try working on her pronunciation. To help her, be a good role model yourself! Speak clearly and slowly. Sometimes, children are so excited that they talk really fast, making it hard for others to understand them. You can also help out by using the correct names for things and not nicknames that only you and your child know. Another good idea is to teach her to use gestures as aids to get her message across. If she points to what she’s trying to get someone to look at, it’ll make it easier for everyone.

Remember that every child develops at his or her own pace –and it might take a while before your daughter can effectively communicate with the rest of the world. For now, be patient and engage with her. Let her know that what she has to say is important by listening to her and then asking questions about it. If your little one feels like she’s good at communicating, then she’ll be more motivated to try it with everyone else.

Tips for teaching listening skills

As your preschooler’s vocabulary expands, he’s able to understand more complicated language about different topics. Your little one is also able to grasp the meaning of longer and more complex sentences, like a set of instructions with three steps. Sometimes though, the difficult part is getting your toddler’s attention so that he actually listens to what you’re saying. Listening is an important skill that is completely interwoven with language development and, like any other skill, it needs to be practiced and perfected.

Here are a few things you can try at home that might help your son (and you!) out:
1. Speak in clear and simple sentences. Even though, as we stated before, your preschooler can now understand more complex sentences, if you’re having trouble getting him to follow instructions, try making them shorter or have him do them in parts.
2. Make eye-contact. When talking to him about something important or when giving him instructions, it’s a good idea to get down on his level and make eye-contact. This will help you make sure you’ve got his attention. Once you do, then proceed with your conversation.
3. Make your expectations clear. Sometimes we feel that we’ve explained ourselves a thousand times to our kids, but we really haven’t or maybe not in a way that they understood. Let your son know your plans ahead of time, make your expectations clear so that he knows what’s coming and what he’s expected to do.
4. Practice listening through games! Enhance your little one’s listening skills by making him notice a sound that’s far away. For example, ask him to listen to the garbage truck passing by. Can he hear it? Sit still and listen quietly yourself so that he can follow your example. Take turns pointing out different sounds you can make out.

Quality interactions enhance language development

You’ve probably been told that the best way to stimulate your little one’s language development is by talking to her all the time. And that advice is sort of true. Research has shown that kids who hear more words from their caregivers have better language skills and academic performance. But a more recent study found that it’s the way you interact with your child that makes the difference.

The study, led by Dr. Kathy Kirsh-Pasek of Temple University, looked at 60 low-income families and how the parents interacted with their children when they played or read a book. Researchers watched recordings of 60 mothers playing with their two-year-olds and they counted how many words the little ones heard during the interaction. They then compared those interactions to the children’s language skills when they turned three. They found that the quality of interactions between parents and children mattered more than the number of words they heard. The children with better language skills had interactions that involved:
• Joint attention. When a child and parent pay attention and communicate about the same thing, they share joint attention. This engagement helps children learn new words because the adult provides the words for the actions and objects they are engrossed with. For example, if you’re playing with a doll and your daughter points to a bottle, then you can say “Do you think she’s hungry? Let’s give her the bottle.” And proceed to feed the doll.
• Repetitiveness. Children love repetition. They thrive on routines because they know what to expect, what’s coming next. Everyday routines help them learn new words as well because the repetitiveness makes it easier for them to learn and remember them. You can incorporate routines into your playtime or have one for bath and bedtime too.
• Connectedness. When parents connect with their children during interactions, they take turns, listen and participate equally. This motivates children to interact for longer periods of time and therefore gives them a better chance of learning.

Talking a lot to your daughter and repeating a lot of words over and over isn’t enough. It’s the interaction that counts –quality interactions. Connect with her and tune into what she is doing and trying to communicate. That will go a long way towards her language development.

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.