The early years are critical for a child’s language development, especially when you consider that by the time the child is five years old, almost 90% of their brain development has already taken place!
Toddler usually say their first words between the ages of 12 – 18 months, but the foundations for communication and language development start from the day they are born.
In their formative years, babies and toddlers absorb, learn and grow by watching and listening to what adults say and do which means parents and other primary caregivers play a crucial role in helping them develop their communication and language skills.
This article sets out some practical and fun ways that you can introduce early language skills to your baby and support their healthy language development.
Tips for supporting early language development in babies
A child’s language development happens all day – and everyday activities are the perfect platform for them to interact with you, listen, mirror what you are saying and doing, absorb, learn and grow. Keeping things fun and playful will get the best results, and remember, even if you feel a bit silly doing some of these things, humour is a great teacher!
Here are some simple ideas for introducing and reinforcing early language skills to your little one.
- Say your child’s name before you speak.
- Let your baby see your face and mouth when you are speaking. Either lift baby up to make eye contact or get down to their level so that you get their attention. If they’re engaged, they’re more likely to learn.
- Limit noisy distractions. Turning the TV or radio off (or at least, turning the volume down) will help them to focus on your words, facial expressions and gestures.
- Talk about something that you both can see. You can also explain what you are doing and why (for example, mashing vegetables for an upcoming meal, having a drink of water or feeding the dog) and what will happen next. This helps them learn what to expect. You should also talk to baby about what they are doing (‘you’re holding your rattle’, ‘you’ve taken your hat off’)
- Use simple language and keep your sentences short at first, eg ‘time for your bottle’, ‘let’s open the door’.
- Point to something and say what it is. Using gestures is also helpful. For example, if it’s mealtime, tap your lips when you say food is ready. This can help them imitate that gesture when they want to communicate back to you, eg if they are hungry.
- Try and limit dummies to nap or sleep time. It’s not easy for them to talk, babble and experiment with their vocal cords and tongues when they’ve got a dummy in their mouths.
- Say the same thing over and over again. Repetition builds the memory bank and repeating words and sentences is a key component of supporting your baby’s language development.
- Have little conversations. Listen to baby’s coos and babbles, pause, then imitate them back or say something new. This will help them learn about the pattern of conversation. Later, when your toddler has learnt some words, you can ask simple questions.
- Be patient. Your little one needs time to think and process all the information that their brains are getting – so be patient while they formulate their response and try and maintain eye contact.
- Say longer sentences. If your toddler says ‘cat’ or ‘bird’, you should extend the sentence into ‘yes, black cat’ or ‘cat is sleeping’ or ‘bird is flying’ or ‘bird in the tree’.
- Focus on positive reinforcement. If a child says ‘look, a tack’, rather say ‘yes, look at the cat’ rather than telling them they’ve got the word wrong.
- Singing is a great way to encourage language development. Rhymes, the alphabet song and simple catchy tunes are great, and you can also fire up your imagination and create some songs of your own!
- Reading, reading, reading! Visit your library, swap and share books with your friends, even make your own homemade versions – whatever you do, make books and reading part of your daily family routine. The more fun you have telling or reading the story, the more engaged your child will be. Exposing them to books from a very early age will stimulate their natural curiosity, encourage their imagination, instil a love of books and of course, develop their language skills and their vocabulary.
The role of a child care provider in a child’s language development
It is essential to choose a childcare provider where language development is actively nurtured and encouraged. It is also important that the educators there have the experience to recognise when a child may be struggling because early intervention can make a huge difference.
What to do if you are worried about your child’s language development
Trust your instincts. Children do learn at different paces and in different ways, but if you have concerns about how your child is progressing, have a chat to your child’s teacher, your childcare nurse or your GP. If necessary, you can then get a referral to a specialist such as a speech and language therapist.
Tracey Davey – Operations Manager Evoke Early Learning
Tracey is a passionate and talented leader at Evoke Early Learning who ensures that relationships, projects, systems and processes are designed, implemented and evaluated to support the efficient operational delivery of the service.
Tracey coordinates and leads working groups in all activities necessary for the successful development, implementation, and completion of special projects. Tracey has a Master of Education in Educational Leadership, as well as dual VIT registration as an Early Childhood Teacher and Primary Teacher. She is also a VIT Trained Mentor Teacher.