Children will generally begin to use their first words around 12-18 months of age. Children learn their speech and language skills by copying those around them. Early words are often words which children hear often and are functional for them to use, such as ‘Mummy’, ‘Dadda’, ‘drink’ or ‘cookie’. It is expected that by the age of 2 years a child would have a large vocabulary of single words and will be starting to use some simple 2-word combinations.
If a child does not develop language skills as described above, they are at risk of having an Early Language Delay or may have other communication difficulties. It is recommended to seek assessment and advice from a Speech Therapist as early identification and intervention is very effective at the early stage of a child’s development.
It is important to understand that small children will need to understand the meaning of a word before they will use it.
What can you do to help?
There are many simple and very effective things you can do with your children to encourage them to develop their speech and language skills.
- Talking is expected
Create an understanding with your child that verbal communication is what is expected, rather than settling for a non-verbal means of gesture or behaviour. This needs to be done in a positive manner at all times. You should never punish your child but should use lots of positive encouragement. For example, always model the word you want your child to use instead of accepting a pointed finger or gesture. If your child wants a banana, say “Oh, you want a banana, you say nana.” And encourage the child to say banana instead of accepting a nod or a pointed finger.
- Develop new words.
Provide opportunities to develop a vocabulary of early words and concepts, eg. Body parts, animals, transport, big/small, action words, colours, naming common objects.
- Lets make some noise!
Play lots of games with your child making lots of different sounds with your mouth. This will help them develop the skills and understanding that you use the muscles of your mouth to produce the sounds for speech. ‘Babble’ is very important to developing speech as it allows us to work out how to use the muscles of our mouth to produce sounds. Encouraging lots of non-speech noises and sounds during play is a great way of encouraging speech sound development. You can use animal noises, car/truck noises and play noises such as ‘uh-oh’, ‘weeee’, ‘ow’.
- Look at my mouth!
Encourage development of speech and language by being a good model and getting your child to look at your face and mouth when you say the sound or word. By looking at your mouth your child is able to see what you move to make the sounds or word and gives them an idea of what they should also move. As your child gets older, you can give them more specific feedback and instructions on how to use the lips, tongue, teeth, voice and breath to create the sounds, eg. “lips together to say ‘b’ “.
- READ, READ, READ, READ, READ, READ, READ!!!!
Reading is great for developing language, spending quality time with your child and developing your relationship. Exposing your child to reading from birth has been proven to assist with language development and begins a child’s literacy skills early. Books are full of new words, fun words, colour words, describing words. They can be just as much fun for the adults to read!!
- Examine what you already do.
Take the time to look at how you communicate with your child and how others in the family communicate with your child. In our busy lives it can be very easy to predict what our children want and they don’t have to ask for anything. Be aware that older siblings can often do a lot of the talking for younger brothers and sisters.