Language development: it starts with us!

Healthy language development requires first and foremost the adoption of positive communications attitudes on the part of the people with whom the child interacts, in other words, their parents, educators, caregivers, etc.

Wednesday October 26, 2011

Language development: it starts with us!

By Stéphanie Laurin, Director of Psychosocial Services and Amélie Michaud, Speech Therapist at Careplus


Adapt how you speak to make it easier for the child to acquire language

  • Vary your tone of voice (e.g.: sounds that are more pronounced than usual), shorten your sentences, emphasize key words (e.g.: place objects right beside your mouth to make it easier for the child to understand).
  • Use less complex grammar and use familiar words (don't use childish words such as “doggy”).
  • Slow down the rate at which you speak, create longer pauses between words, repeat the same words frequently.
  • Ask relevant, but simple questions, and avoid insisting if an answer isn't forthcoming.

Attract and hold your child's attention 

  • Ensure that the child is looking at you before you speak to them (e.g.: “Look at me, look at my mouth”).
  • Bend over so that you are at the child's level.
  • Show him or her images (e.g.: mouth, ears, eyes).
  • Use other visual and sound clues (e.g.: turn off the lights, use songs and nursery rhymes).

Follow the child's initiatives 

  • Let the child lead the game and follow their ideas. Be observant and get involved in his or her game.
  • Talk about what the child is doing and describe the situations they experience.
  • Describe the game, introduce interactions.

Wait for the child to express his or her needs verbally 

  • Encourage the child to use words to express himself or herself
  • Don't anticipate their needs; ask him or her questions.
  • Even if a word is not very well enunciated, accept a resemblance; follow the child's rhythm.
  • If the child only points at things, give them a hint:
  1. Offer a choice of answers: “Do you want a banana or a cookie?”
  2. Give them a spoken example and ask the question again: “A cookie?” Wait, then ask “What do you want?”
  3. Use a deliberate error: “You want to eat a sweater?”
  • Suggest a part of the word: “A coo_______?”
  • It's important to wait 5 seconds and to encourage the child.
  • Congratulate all the child's efforts.

Reformulate the child's statements

  • To help the child improve their language skills, repeat correctly what they have just said, insisting upon the elements that one wishes to correct.
  • In order to maintain the child's desire to communicate, avoid requiring them to repeat themselves.

E.g.: If the child says “the tun”, one should respond “yes, the SSSun”. If he or she says “sweater of me is in the sandbox”, respond “his(her) sweater is in the sandbox”.

  • Let the child correct themselves if they feel like it, encourage them and congratulate them.

Help the child to make his or her sentences longer

  • By adding information to what the child has just said, he or she will gradually increase the length of their sentences.
  • One should stay at the child's level and provide him or her with the model that they need.
  • It's important to follow the child's rhythm and to abide by his or her stages of development in order to enrich their vocabulary. E.g.: “Look at the dog! Oh yes, the beautiful brown long-haired dog!”

Use books and stories

  • The use of books is very important for developing communication skills with children.
  • Use attractive books adapted to the child's age, with colourful images. When the story is longer or more complex, translate it into your own words.
  • Modulate your voice, make noises and gestures to heighten the child's concentration. If needed, use a puppet to make the story captivating and to develop a feeling of attachment.
  • Depending upon the child's language level, adapt the story: name the objects and the characters, describe the images with short sentences (subject, verb, complement).
  • Ask the child questions: “What is the boy doing?” “What colour is the car?”
  • Ask him or her to tell you the whole story or to make up another ending.
  • Use vocabulary books and games when trying to do work on language stimulation.

Make sure that you keep the interaction enjoyable! Communication has to remain pleasant and fun for the child and for us!


• Bergeron, Anne-Marie, Henry, France (2008) GIRAFE: Guide d’intervention en réadaptation auditive : Formule de l’enfant. Institut Raymond-Dewar.
• Beauchemin, M., Martin, S., Ménard, S., (2000) L’apprentissage des sons et des phrases, un trésor à découvrir. Cité de la Santé de Laval. Les Éditions de l’Hôpital Sainte-Justine.

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