Category Archives: Linguistic

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 daughter 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 plot 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

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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”.

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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.

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 stutter 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.