10 Ways to Help Young Children Learn Language

10 Ways to Help Young Children Learn Language


1.      Position yourself face to face with the child whenever possible.  Information from your facial expressions, eye gaze and body language help children better understand what you say and will help them use non-verbal communication themselves. 

2.      Follow the child’s lead.  Talk about what the child is doing, seeing, hearing, feeling, etc.  Model the words and phrases that match what they are experiencing in that moment.

3.      Avoid asking testing questions as a way to get children to talk more.  Questions like “What is this?” or “What colour is that?” can be frustrating for children who may not know the answer or want to talk about something else.  Often you will get a one-word answer or no answer at all.  Use questions sparingly and meaningfully such as “Where did you put your shoes?”, “Are you hungry?”, “What should we play now?”.  There are many opportunities to practice asking and answering questions in everyday life!

4.      Encourage the child to take equal conversational turns.  Make a comment and pause.  Wait like you expect them to take a conversational turn of some kind.  If they don’t, make another comment and pause again. 

5.      Name objects, actions, emotions, etc. as much as possible.  Children need to hear new words many times before they understand it and can use it correctly. Try to use specific names for things when you talk to them.  For example, it’s better to say “put the cup in the sink” instead of “put this over there”.

6.      When necessary, “script” for the child.  Say what the child could or should have said in a particular situation.  They might repeat your model right away or use those words and phrases at a later time.

7.      Speak in phrases that are only slightly longer or more complex than the child’s own phrases.  This increases the likelihood that they will understand what you say and be able to repeat it.  It’s so much easier to take a small step than a giant leap!

8.      Imitate and add.  Imitate what the child says and add one or two more words so you can model a phrase that is slightly longer or more grammatically complex.   This validates what they said and gives them information as to how they can say it slightly better next time.

9.      Read books.  Read the same story many times so the child can gain a better understanding of it each time.  Try to relate it to the child’s real-life experiences and engage them in a discussion about the story.  You can do this by making a comment about the story (That lion was so brave!), wondering out loud (I wonder why…) or posing an open-ended question (Do you think….?).  Books also expose children to higher level words they wouldn’t normally hear such as “sleek”, “perch” or “exuberant”.  It’s never too early to read to children!

10. Sing songs. Children love the rhythm and repetition of songs. They get repeated opportunities to learn the lyrics and meaning behind the words. It also taps into another part of the brain that can really enhance language learning. Add gestures and movement for whole body learning.

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