Tips for Building Early Language Skills with Your Child

child reading with mom

Reading with your child is one of the best ways to help build language skills. Source:

Mama!  Dada!! Like many parents, you have likely been waiting months for your child to finally say a real word!  Sure, the grunts, pointing and babbling sounds are cute, but that moment your child utters her first word is priceless!   Once the first word is spoken however, there is no turning back. What was once a semi-peaceful trip to the grocery store is now filled with endless, “Ball”, “Mama”, “Apple”, “Want Dat”.  Car rides are no longer excuses to escape with Adam Levine.  Instead the sounds of “Stop,” “Go”, “Car”, “Fire Truck” are yelled triumphantly and continuously from the back seat. Are there ways in which parents can start building speech and language skills early?  How early is too early?

The answer is YES you can start to teach your children language and speech skills at a very early age.  Children actually begin to learn and comprehend words and phrases long before they can speak their first word.  Parents and caregivers are crucial components to the success of early speech and language building skills and often, the earlier, the better.  Parents can help build language skills by setting up an environment that gives children reasons to talk and things to talk about.
A few common and effective and easy ways include:

It’s All in the Question:  First things first, as early as possible it is vital to begin to talk “with” your child, rather than “at” or “to” your child.  It may seem like you are talking to yourself for a few months, but it is an important step to building language skills. Engage in mini conversations designed to elicit a response, any response, from your child.   Ask questions of your child that cannot be answered with a simple yes or no answer. Instead, ask open-ended questions.  For example, “What color is that dog?”, or “What shape is that cloud?”  This process helps to helps kick-start those connections in their brains into coming up with more detailed responses and helps build the foundation for putting words together.

Reading: Reading is one of the most important things you can do with your child.  Sure, he or she may not understand everything you are saying, but take the opportunity to ask questions related to the story.  Ask questions about the pictures, ask your child to point to items on each page and for older children, you may ask your child to think of experiences he or she may have had that are similar.  All these help your child make connections with what he or she is hearing.  Toddlers learn best when the experience is fun and interactive.   You may find that your child wants to read the same book time and time again.  Go ahead!  What is important is that your child is listening and engaged.  Hearing the same story over and over helps foster familiarity and security, while building language skills at the same time.

Narrating:  Begin a running commentary throughout your day.  While you may think your child is not listening or cannot understand, commenting on what is happening around you is helping your child make the connection between words and things. “It is bath time”, “It’s a red light”, or “Let’s take a walk in the park”.   Look for opportunities in common household chores that you can share with your child.  Making lunch, taking a walk, even grocery shopping can provide excellent opportunities to teach your child about the language surrounding him.  Point out all of the different fruits and vegetables in the produce isle at your local grocery store, or perhaps point to all the colors of ice cream at the local sweet shop.

Have Fun: This is probably the most important step. Don’t make your “sessions” with your child all about the work!   If your child senses any pressure from you, he or she may not want to participate.  Make the experience a time that you and your child can share together, something you two can look forward to.  Over time, your child’s language skills will improve and you two will be enjoying a real conversation!

What are some of the early language building exercises you have done?   How did they work?

Check out these links for additional ways to boost your child’s language skills:

Parents Magazine, Baby’s First Words

What to Expect: Your Toddler’s Language Explosion

Parent's Guide to Speech & Communication Challenges
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