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Language Development

Five Tips on Enhancing Language in Young Children

January 1, 2019, Author: Tamra Cater

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As a parent, I have worried a bit if I’m doing enough to enhance language in my daughter. The first 3 years of life are important for developing a  foundation for a child’s future progress in language and in another areas (social interaction, behavioral control, etc.), so yes, me being the anxious person, I worried. There are milestones that children need to meet, and there are strategies for enhancing language development that can be used in order to meet those milestones. While there is variability in terms of when these milestones are met,  it would be important for you to discuss concerns with your child’s healthcare provider.

Language Milestones in the First Two Years

  • Birth
    • Cries: A baby will show different cries that a parent will eventually learn to distinguish. For example, there is an angry cry and a pain cry that sound different from each other. I usually knew when my daughter wasn’t feeling well or was in pain based on the way she was crying.
  • 6 months
    • Single syllable babbling (i.e., ma, da, ba). Babies can recognize many of the sounds that are a part of their language.
  • 12 months
    • First words (mamma, dadda)
  • 18 months
    • Vocabulary explosion (The child goes from saying just a few words to many more)
    • Occasional two word phrases (Go home)
  • 24 months
    • Two word sentences. For example, a child may say “More cookie.”

This is an overall summary of language milestones in the first two years of life. For a more detailed description of language milestones, click here. As a professor of developmental psychology, I have taught about these milestones, as well as how to enhance language development. There are a lot of options and possibilities that can be used to help enhance language, but I will discuss those that helped the most.

 

enhancing language

Tips for Enhancing Language in Young Children

1.Start Early!

Almost as soon as my baby came home, I started reading to her, singing to her,  and talking to her (once I got over at least some of the sleep deprivation, of course). The more exposure to language, the more this will help develop her brain. As a result of consistently reading to your baby early on, your baby’s vocabulary will be larger later on.

Also, when your baby is starting to make those cute noises and babbles, babble and smile back. This is the start of turn taking in conversations. Here’s a cute video of my daughter when she was about 7 months (single syllable babbling). We certainly did smile, but we were more focused on video taping it than trying to talk back because it was so cute! 🙂

2.Modeling

Children are like sponges. They take in what they see and hear, sometimes even to the detriment of taking in some bad things at times. For example, I sometimes become frustrated because something broke or fell over, and I say “Oh sh**!” I knew the age was coming close to when my baby was about to have a vocabulary explosion and start two word phrases (18-20 months), but I didn’t think she was quite there yet. She woke up from a nap one afternoon when she was about 19 months or so, and she was standing up in her crib pointing to a pile of poop (she outdid her diaper), saying, “Oh sh**!”. It seems she was ready for that vocabulary explosion and two work phrase stage, but at least she didn’t say this in front of my mother in law.

The point is that the more you expose a child to variety in one’s language, the more they will pick up on new words, phrases, sentence structure, etc. When you go to the store, narrate to the child what you see. When you are cleaning something up, tell your child what you are doing.

3.Use gestures for enhancing language

Children learn the meaning of words and phrases when you use gestures and point to what you are talking about. When my child was 12 months and older, I would take her outside and point to the tree and say “Look at the tree!” Or I might point to the car, and say “car.” Also, be sure to look back at the child and then look back at the object as you are saying the word.

4.Interact in other ways to enhance language

Turn off the darn tv, sit down, and play with your child. I get it, I have been there, sometimes I just want to vegetate and let my mind be blank for a while. But, take 15 minutes at least a day to sit down with your child and play with them, while having a conversation. Ask questions about where on earth on the fish is going while riding on the back of firetruck. Keep the conversation going. This helps build social communication and conversational skills.

I have a train set just like the one below, and it gives my daughter and I lots of inspiration for conversations!

enhancing language

Or these blocks would be excellent! There could be conversations about what your child is building, as well as many opportunities to learn words (different colors, shapes, etc.)

enhancing language

5.Books and more books!

We have always heard this one, but I can’t emphasize this one enough. My daughter loves stories. Books can be read word for word, but you can also teach a child so much more from books. You can ask the child other questions about what the characters are doing. Use words to describe where objects are in the picture (such as “See the picture hanging above the fireplace!”.

I highly recommend this book below!!

Final Thoughts on Enhancing Language Development

The more you engage your child in conversations and reading, the better your child’s language will be later on. This also helps other aspects of development, which include social skills- How to take turns in a conversation and how to ask questions and respond. This is a fun and exciting time to watch your child learn and say new words!

On to more adventures in learning new words and sentences!

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comments (10)

  • avatar image
    I emphatically agree with your viewpoints. Parents will see such a difference in their children when they engage in reading and speaking to them. I just wrote a blog on the importance of reading to a child. You made some very great points.

    Robin

    February 14, 2019 Reply
    • avatar image
      Thank you! They do make a big difference!

      Tamra Cater

      February 14, 2019 Reply
  • avatar image
    Great article! I do have a quick question though, and I know the answer is speculative, so I'm interested in your opinion. I'm a high school teacher, but had to (of course) go through developmental psych and early childhood development in college. You mentioned in your "start early" section about an infant babbling and making noises, and that the parent should babble back to initiate conversation. I completely agree that developing that link to conversation is important, but I had always heard that using "baby talk" was detrimental to their development in that it doesn't expose them to high-enough level vocabulary, which (like you mentioned later) they can hear and not repeat for several months. What's you're opinion on this? Is this a myth that I've fallen victim to or am I just overthinking babbling back at a 7month old? Very interesting read!

    Alex

    February 14, 2019 Reply
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    With the way I understand baby talk, it’s more about the high pitched kind if talk, like how we talk to our pets. Early on, to my knowledge, it helps babies pick up on different syllables. But even so, there is a time to drop this, because it is detrimental. You’ll want to go to having normal voiced conversations. Good question!

    Tamra Cater

    February 14, 2019 Reply
  • avatar image
    I had to laugh at the point in your article where your munchkin said “oh s$&t!” Because it’s a legit time to say that when pointing at a pile of well, s$&t. Lol. Loved the article and the points you made, because the earlier they are taught, the better it is for them. They really are little sponges.

    Erica (The Prepping Wife)

    February 14, 2019 Reply
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      Lol, it was pretty funny when it happened considering it was so on point to what had happened!

      Tamra Cater

      February 14, 2019 Reply
  • avatar image
    Language development is so important to me right now. My daughter is 16 months old and I am trying my best to enhance her vocabulary. Modeling is so very important and something that many of us don't think about. We as parents have to be very mindful of what we do in front of our sweet children. They become little versions of us whether we intend for that to happen or not. Thanks for sharing!

    Rhema

    April 24, 2019 Reply
    • avatar image
      That's a good age to start emphasizing it a lot more. There's a vocabulary explosion that starts to happen at around 17-18 months. And you are right, they do become little versions of ourselves whether or not we intend for that to happen! Thank you!

      Tamra Cater

      April 24, 2019 Reply
  • avatar image
    great article! love, love the baby babble!

    Patricia Dol

    May 2, 2019 Reply
    • avatar image
      Thank you! Me too! :)

      Tamra Cater

      May 2, 2019 Reply