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Facilitating the development of speech in young children

Melanie Randeniya

Children communicate with us from the moment they are born. They cry to tell us that they are hungry, need comfort or need rest. They are responsive to sound from an early age and will turn their head in the direction of the noise, imitate and produce utterances.

Unlike holding a pencil or riding a bike, formally teaching children a system of language is not necessarily required. In fact, many psychologists argue that children have an innate system that allows them to acquire language without explicit instruction.

So that leaves the question of how the people around a child can facilitate their language development if it is something that happens naturally.

Recognising typical language development

Firstly, it is we need to recognise when a child's language development falls significantly outside the normal range. Most parents and guardians should be aware of signs that point to expected progress. For children attending child care, we recommend collaboration with educators and services.

So what can you look out for? Here are some simple signs:

Is your child turning their head and looking in the direction of sound?

Children who have hearing impairments will have trouble responding to sound. The best way to look out for this is to see whether your child turns their head to look at you when you speak to them.

The early detection of hearing impairment and subsequent intervention is vital for young children. Modern technology now allows us to test for auditory deficiencies in babies who are only a few hours old! Pretty cool isn’t it? So, if you are concerned about your child’s hearing do not hesitate to have them checked out.

Having a form of hearing impairment can severely affect a child’s language development. If they can’t hear you then how can they produce the sounds and words that you are speaking? I will emphasise that EARLY intervention is imperative.

Developmental diagnoses

As most of you are aware, there are various diagnoses (such as autism, cerebral palsy, Down syndrome etc.) that affect the typical path of language development.

Exposure to more than one language at a young age

THIS IS NOT A BAD THING! Children are lucky to be grown up in a multilingual environment.

However, multilingual environments it may mean that their fluency in their primary language is delayed compared to a monolingual child, BUT they will come to a stage where they do show typical language development across all their learned languages. That, and "solving problems that require controlling attention to specific aspects of a display and inhibiting attention to misleading aspects that are salient but associated with an incorrect response".

Facilitating language development

Back to the question, how do we facilitate language development in young children?

It is simple really - talk to your child! It is so important that we engage with our children whether it is talking or singing, reading them a story or answering the questions they ask. There are SO many things we can do to help a child develop their language skills.

However, parents and guardians, there are a few things we need to be aware of:

Using baby talk with children can affect their language development

Have you ever noticed that men and women equally put on a high pitched voice when speaking to babies? This is great. It is a subconscious process that seems to correspond with the fact that young children respond to higher frequencies of sound. This is not baby talk.

Then what is baby talk? Baby talk is speaking using incorrect grammar. Sometimes our children say cute things like “I big”, “I plose the ploset”. It is important that we repeat after our children with correct grammar; “I am big”, “I closed the closet” and not continue to say something incorrectly, even though it may be adorable.

Speaking at 100 miles an hour can also effect typical language development

Sometimes we forget that children are, well, children. We need to speak to them clearly, concisely with proper word and sentence articulation. Children have not yet mastered the English language (both their ability to speak and comprehend speech) and thus, will hear a blur of words mashed together if we talk to them too quickly. Remember, what they hear is what they will end up producing as speech.

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