How to Promote Language Development – Tips from a Speech Pathologist

We all want our children to grow up to be happy and confident, both socially when making friends and academically when they start school. It is well established that speech and language skills play a big part in social and academic success, in fact a child’s early vocabulary is one of the strongest predictors of their later academic success. So how can you help your child to become a great communicator?
We asked local Speech Pathologist, Miriam Gunnourie, for her top 5 tips.

 1. Talk with your child
This one might seem like a no brainer but research has found that children whose parents engage them in more adult-child conversations, have better vocabulary skills (Zimmerman et al, 2009). Start talking to your baby from day one and treat them like a talker before they learn any words at all. Act like your baby is talking to you when they make sounds, respond by mimicking the sounds of your baby and then wait for them to take another turn. You can have a ‘conversation’ with your baby without saying any words at all!
 2. Talk about what is happening during your day to day activities
As you carry out your daily activities, talk about what you’re doing out loud, even if your child doesn’t understand yet (e.g. “now we’re getting your pants on, here we go, one leg in, two legs in”). Talk about what your child is doing too (e.g. “oh now you’ve got the ball, that’s a big ball isn’t it, what a lovely ball”).
3. Look at books with your child
Book reading and related activities can improve the language skills of your child. Don’t just read your child the words on the page, talk about the pictures with your child, ask them to point to different things in the pictures, and ask them questions about what they can see, what they think might happen next, and how the characters might feel.
 4. Be diligent in treating ear infections
Otitis media, or glue ear, is a common childhood infection which can impact on how well a child can hear. If your child is unable to hear language, they will not be able to learn it. If your child gets an ear infection visit your GP for treatment.
 5. Minimise screen time
‘Screen time’ activities such as watching TV or playing on the iPad do not encourage language development. Whilst children may be hearing words from the screen, they are not required to respond with words of their own and there is no two way conversation involved. Children who watch more television have been found to have poorer language skills than those who watch less television (Zimmerman et al, 2009).
Lastly, if your child is having any difficulties learning to talk, for example saying sounds incorrectly or making errors with grammar, never criticise your child or tell them that they are saying it wrong. Instead repeat back what the child has said but with the correct pronunciation or words.
If you have any concerns about your child’s speech or language development, contact a Speech Pathologist for advice.
Guest Contributor-Miriam Gunnourie
Miriam Gunnourie has been practicing as a Speech Pathologist since 2009 and is the Director of Sydney Speech and Hearing Clinic in Annandale (www.sydneyspeechandhearingclinic.com.au).
*Zimmerman, F., Gilkerson, J., Richards, J.A., Christakis, D.A., Xu, D., Gray, S., Yapanel, U. (2009). Teaching by Listening: The Importance of Adult-Child Conversations to Language Development. Pediatrics, 124(1).

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