The child develops his or her language skills gradually, following an evolving path. Taking into account this developmental trajectory, we can enhance and promote their language skills according to their age or language stage.
- We provide proper language models: we use simple sentences with young children (under three years old) but always with correct word productions. We do not use " babbling" words.
- We name what we see around us: especially until the age of three when the child rapidly increases his vocabulary
- We "build" on the children's suggestions: from the age of 2 years when the child starts putting two words together, up to the age of 5 years. We can reinforce children's production of sentences or phrases by "building" on the sentences they are already using by adding 1-3 words to the existing sentence. E.g. when the 3-year-old says "let's play with the bike," the adult repeats and adds "let's play with the bike in the yard." The main reason for "building" on children's sentences is to give them models of larger and more complex sentences using their own language level as a base.
- We comment on the things we do together: while playing, while doing household chores, while visiting a friend or a place, we comment on the activity so as to provide a direct language model and information to the child.
How do parents enrich children's vocabulary?
There is a perception that children cannot say the "difficult" words, so it is unnecessary for adults to use them. What is important is not how a child produces the word (i.e. whether all the sounds are correct) but the understanding of the word (perceptual vocabulary) and then the correct use of the word in the sentence. To promote vocabulary enrichment we can:
- We use less common words to describe things e.g. "the food tastes good" versus "the food is good"
- Explaining the meaning of new words, we give synonyms, but mostly we link them to information that children already know. Connecting new words to concepts they know helps children use them more immediately. E.g. "the baby was frightened when he heard the dog". "Scared means very scared". "Do you remember how scared you were when you heard the alarm go off loudly?"
- We often use new words in different sentences: in that way we want to give the children the opportunity to understand the way the word or the family of words is used, e.g. "it's hot today", "I wonder what the temperature will be today", "let's look at the thermometer on the porch to see today's temperature."
In what additional ways can parents boost the language level of children over three years old?
After the age of three we can use additional ways to boost children's language level. We mainly want to increase their judgement and reasoning skills, understanding of stories - facts and story-telling skills. It is necessary to convey to children the message that we value their experiences at school, at home or anywhere else. When children feel that we value their opinions and ideas, then a conducive environment for communication is created.
- We discuss and comment on the things going on around us: we always explain and analyse the reasons why things happen, e.g. "we wash our hands to get rid of germs," "traffic lights regulate traffic"
- We seek their views and ideas on issues we discuss e.g. "what would happen on the road if we didn't have traffic lights?"
- We use photos or mementos from visits or trips to tell the story
- As we talk with children, we help them move to a higher language level by asking them:
* solve problems e.g. "we don't have any more glue for painting. What can we do now?"
* guess the next possible event e.g. "what do you think will happen next?" or "what if..."
Along with everyday events and experiences, we can use books. The book is a valuable "language tool" which we can use in multiple ways depending on our goal.
- Narrative skills: help the child to understand the concepts of "beginning, middle and end." Initially we use the pictures in the book as an aid to the narration and later we tell the story without the pictures. Also, dramatizing the story helps in better understanding of the story.
- Relating concepts to everyday events: apply the knowledge children get from books to other everyday situations, e.g. "Do you remember what X did in the story? What can we do now?"
What do I do when the child does not cooperate with me?
Many times children do not respond to our call to participate in one of our activities. But children learn best when they are involved in things that interest them. So, instead of trying to "force" the child to join us in our activity, we should follow the child's game or activity of choice. We will ensure his cooperation when we get down to the child's level:
- showing real interest in his game
- commenting on the activity
- giving the child time to explain his game to us
- participating in the game by taking an active role
It is important to use the limited time we have with our children properly and to the maximum extent possible. Our goal should be quality time with children, which usually means more energy and effort on the part of the adult. Linguistically rich experiences are generally those that actively involve the child, that allow them to participate, to use their imagination and creativity.
What has been mentioned above are applied methods, which we can use after always adapting them to the age, or the linguistic or cognitive level of the child.