Language development supports your child’s ability to communicate, and express and understand feelings. It also supports thinking and problem-solving, and developing and maintaining relationships. Learning to understand, use and enjoy language is the critical first step in literacy, and the basis for learning to read and write.
Although the first year is really important for language development in children, major learning continues throughout a child’s early years. And learning language is a lifelong process.
In their first 12 months, babies develop many of the foundations that underpin speech and language development. For the first three years or so, children understand a lot more than they can say.
The best way to encourage your child’s speech and language development is to talk together frequently and naturally.
Talking with your baby
Talk to your baby and treat her as a talker, beginning in her first year. Assume she’s talking back to you when she makes sounds and babbles, even when she’s just paying attention to you. When you finish talking, give her a turn and wait for her to respond – she will!
When your baby starts babbling, babble back with similar sounds. You’ll probably find that he babbles back to you. This keeps the talking going and is great fun!
Responding to your baby
As your baby grows up and starts to use gestures and words, respond to her attempts to communicate. For example, if your child shakes her head, treat that behavior as if she’s saying ‘No’. If she points to a toy, respond as if your child is saying, ‘Can I have that?’ or ‘I like that’.
When you tune in and respond to your child, it encourages him to communicate. You’ll be amazed at how much he has to say, even before his words develop.
Talk about what’s happening. Talk to your baby even if she doesn’t understand – she soon will. Talk about things that make sense to her, but at the same time remember to use lots of different words.
As your baby becomes a toddler, keep talking to him – tell him the things that you’re doing, and talk about the things that he’s doing.
From the time your child starts telling stories, encourage her to talk about things in the past and in the future. At the end of the day, talk about plans for the next day – for example, making the weekly shopping list together or deciding what to take on a visit to grandma. Similarly, when you come home from a shared outing, talk about it.
Introducing new words
It’s important for children to be continually exposed to lots of different words in lots of different contexts. This helps them learn the meaning and function of words in their world.
Reading with your baby
Read and share books with your baby and keep using more complex books as he grows. Talk about the pictures. Use a variety of books and link what’s in the book to what’s happening in your child’s life. Books with interesting pictures are a great focus for talking.
Read aloud with your child and point to words as you say them. This shows your child the link between written and spoken words, and that words are distinct parts of language. These are important concepts for developing literacy.
Your local library is a great source of new books.
Following your child’s lead
If your child starts a conversation through talking, gesture or behavior, respond to it, making sure you stick to the topic your child started.
You can also repeat and build on what your child says. For example, if she says, ‘Apple,’ you can say, ‘You want an apple. You want a red apple. I want a red apple too. Let’s have a red apple together’.