As a childhood educator, parents often ask me for advice on how to best support early language development. While there are several strategies I utilize with my son and students, I asked an expert to weigh in as well! I have teamed up with Danielle LoVecchio, MA SLP-CCC, BCBA, LBA, Executive Director of Kids of New York Applied Behavior Analysis, PLLC and Bridge Psychology and Speech Services, PLLC. We have worked together to bring you these 6 East Tips for encouraging early language development!
1. Pair language with your child’s interests.
One of the best ways to encourage language development is to make language fun and motivating. What better way to do this than to pair it with your child’s natural interests? When your child shows interest in something, provide her with related language. It’s that simple!
For example, when Ashley’s son points to a dog walking by, she models something like, “Dog! I see a dog! Dogs say, ‘woof, woof!'” Similarly, if your child points to request a person, activity, or object, label it for her and model any associated sounds. For instance, if she points to request a toy train, you might say something like, “Oh, train! I want the train! Choo-choo!” and then hand it to her. You’ll want to continue utilizing those sounds and labels during the play. We suggest narrating play and activities as you engage in them. Remember, the goal is to make language acquisition enjoyable!
2. Don’t be afraid to repeat yourself.
While we know that it may feel unnatural to repeat yourself, this is a great way to support language development! When you repeat sounds and labels for your child, you are providing him with repeated learning opportunities. As you can probably imagine, more learning opportunities generally result in more learning!
When Danielle reads books with her daughter, her child often points to different animals. Danielle consistently models the animal sounds for her when she does this. She models them every time her daughter shows interest, which may mean that she winds up saying “moo!” 12 times in a row! Oh, the things we do as parents and educators! Although it may feel silly, her daughter is quickly learning those animal sounds and is also learning that communication is reciprocal – she points to something and looks to her mother, anticipating a response.
3. Incorporate predictable language into daily routines.
We all have daily routines with our children, which may include mealtimes, bath time, toothbrushing, getting dressed, bedtime, and more! Another way to create a language-rich environment for your child is to incorporate words, sounds, phrases, and songs into those routines. It is even better if you can try to incorporate some of the same language consistently over time (another form of repetition).
For example, every time Ashley brushes her son’s teeth, she sings: “brush-brush-brush, brush-brush-brush-brush, brush-brush-brush your teeth!” While this may not become a hit single, it does make toothbrushing fun and provides him with routine-relevant language. The goal is for him to begin using these words independently over time.
When Danielle puts her daughter to bed at night, she follows a language-based routine using the nursery’s animal wall decals. Initially, Danielle pointed to each animal, labeled it, and together they said goodnight to it. This activity has now advanced to asking her daughter, “who should we say goodnight to?” and her daughter chooses the animals.
4. Speak in the third-person voice.
While this is not a tip we encourage you to use once your child is consistently speaking in phrases, it can be helpful for early language learners to hear you speak in third-person.
For instance, saying “Mommy is cooking” rather than “I am cooking.” Or, “Daddy’s leaving” versus “I’m leaving.” This will help your child to learn the names of important people in his life. Once your child is speaking in phrases, we suggest switching back to the first person voice so that she can then learn appropriate pronoun usage (e.g., I, you, we).
5. Look for and encourage vocal approximations.
If you follow the steps above, it is likely that your child will eventually attempt to produce the words and sounds you have been modeling. Keep an eye out for this! Remember that a child’s initial approximations may not sound exactly as he is intending.
As an example, Danielle consistently modeled the “shhh” sound for her daughter during play, pairing it with bringing an isolated finger to her mouth. One day, her daughter began putting her index finger in her mouth and producing a sound, while they were engaging in that same play schema. Danielle realized that her daughter was making an approximation of what she had modeled! Try to catch these moments and encourage them. Respond as though your child’s approximation is completely accurate, while also modeling the correct pronunciation. In this example, it may sound something like: “That’s right! Shh-shh-shh” (while modeling the action as well).
6. Shape babbling into functional communication.
As you are probably aware, babies and young toddlers tend to babble, producing a variety of sounds and combinations. While this babbling does not initially have a communicative purpose, we can help turn it into meaningful language. We do this by catching the moments when a child’s babbling is related to his environment.
For example, Ashley’s son used to frequently say, “ma-ma-ma-ma-ma” when babbling. When this occurred in her presence, she would excitedly say “Yes! I’m Mama! Mama!”, while pointing to herself. She understood that he was not actually speaking to or about her, but acted as though he was. With repeated practice, he learned that “mama” is the correct label for her.
You can also encourage babbling in general by imitating the sounds your child produces.
We hope our 6 Easy Tips are helpful to you and your little one(s)! Leave a comment to let us know how they work out for you and share any other strategies you utilize! Happy language learning!
Danielle Lovecchio, MA SLP-CCC, BCBA, LBA is a Licensed Speech and Language Pathologist, Board Certified Behavior Analyst, Licensed Behavior Analyst, and Executive Director of Kids of New York Applied Behavior Analysis, PLLC and Bridge Psychology and Speech Therapy, PLLC. These multidisciplinary teams work to provide children and families with comprehensive support services.
Written by Ashley Abeles, MSEd and Danielle Lovecchio, MA SLP-CCC, BCBA, LBA