As children learn, everything and every person in their environment is continuously influencing them. One way to think about language learning is to picture kids as little scientists, constantly experimenting with how the world reacts to their sounds, words, sentences, and stories. There are endless opportunities for parents to encourage their kids to grow every day!
Many strategies that we use when talking to babies and children come naturally, but this outline from the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) lists some wonderful and simple strategies that can encourage expressive language development. Here are a few of the main concepts they suggest:
Reinforcement: let them know you hear and understand them by imitating sounds and responding with a smile. This is very encouraging for babies when they’re experimenting with all their first sounds!
Modeling descriptive language: Use lots of adjectives to describe everyday items. For example, instead of telling your child to look at a car on the road, you could tell him, “look at that shiny, blue car driving behind the red truck!” Modeling is an excellent way to encourage descriptive language. There’s an excellent book called How to Talk so Kids Will Listen & How to Listen So Kids Will Talk by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish has some more helpful hints in this area (and more), and ***I highly recommend it for all parents.
Expanding: Encourage making words into complete sentences, or making language into more advanced language, by adding onto what your child says. If she tells you, “I saw Jamie”, you can expand by saying, “Great! You saw your friend Jamie at school today!”
Encourage a rich vocabulary: Try to make connections as your child is learning new words. If she asked for an apple with breakfast, you could ask her to tell you the names of some other fruits. For elementary school kids, you might want to suggest using synonyms and antonyms for word play activities, too!
Give them time to respond: After asking a question or while having a conversation, make sure your child has time to respond. It’s ok for them to take time practicing to form a complete thought.
In the previous post, Articulation on the Go!, we discussed some creative ideas to practice making target speech sounds during daily routines. When it comes to expressive language, there are just as many (if not more) possibilities for language experimentation-just get creative! I encourage you to help your little scientists explore their expressive abilities.