21st Aug 2015
Facilitating the development of speech in young children
Children communicate with us from the moment they are born. They cry to tell us that they are hungry, need comfort or need rest. They are responsive to sound from an early age and will turn their head in the direction of noise, imitate and produce utterances.
Unlike holding a pencil or riding a bike, a child does not need to be taught language. In fact, many psychologists argue that children have an innate system that allows them to acquire language without explicit instruction.
So that leaves the question of how the people around a child can facilitate their language development if it is something that happens naturally.
Firstly, it is extremely important that a child’s parents and guardians are able to notice signs in children that are not quite right.
Is your child turning their head and looking in the direction of sound?
This is an important cue to look out for. Children who have hearing impairments will have trouble responding to sound. The best way to look out for this is to see whether your child turns their head to look at you when you speak to them.
The early detection of hearing impairment and subsequent intervention is vital for young children. Modern technology now allows us to test for hearing impairments in babies who are only a few hours old! Pretty cool isn’t it? So, if you are concerned about your child’s hearing do not hesitate to have them checked out.
Having a form of hearing impairment can severely effect a child’s language development. If they can’t hear you then how can they produce the sounds and words that you are speaking? I will emphasise that EARLY intervention is imperative in ensuring your child can normally develop.
What other things might affect normal language development
As most of you are aware, there are various diagnoses (such as Autism, Cerebral Palsy, Down Syndrome etc.) that affect the normal path of language development.
Another factor that may alter normal language development at a young age is a child’s exposure to more than one language. THIS IS NOT A BAD THING! Children are lucky to be grown up in a multilingual environment. It may mean that their fluency in their primary language is delayed compared to a monolingual child, BUT they will come to a stage where they do show typical language development in ALL the languages they are brought up with.
Back to the question, how to we facilitate language development in young children?
It is simple really... talk to your child! It is so important that we engage with our children whether it is talking or singing, reading them a story or answering the questions they ask. There are SO many things we can do to help a child develop their language skills.
However parents and guardians, there are a few things we need to be aware of...
- Using baby talk with children can affect their language development
Have you ever noticed that men and women equally put on a high pitched voice when speaking to babies? This is great. It is a subconscious process that seems to correspond with the fact that young children respond to higher frequencies of sound. This is not baby talk.
Then what is baby talk? Baby talk is speaking using incorrect grammar. Sometimes our children say cute things like “I big”, “I plose the ploset”. It is important that we repeat after our children with correct grammar; “I am big”, “I closed the closet” and do not continue to say something incorrectly, even though it may be extremely cute.
- Speaking at 100 miles an hour can also effect typical language development
Sometimes we forget that children are, well, children. We need to speak to them clearly and concisely with proper word and sentence articulation. Children have not yet mastered the English language (both their ability to speak and comprehend speech) and thus, will hear a blur of words mashed together if we speak to them too quickly. Remember, what they hear is what they will end up producing as speech.
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