Two-thirds of parents feel that their child’s language development has been impacted by the pandemic. Over the last 18 months, the lack of social interaction due to school closures and periods of lockdowns has resulted in less opportunities for children in their formative years to create the building blocks for their own language development.
To help support parents, tonies®, the leading children’s audio player, is working with language expert Dr Jamie Lingwood to bring them some top tips to help foster language skills in young children:
Talking with your child is an easy way to help improve their language skills. These conversations can help introduce your child to various different word types and familiarise them with different expressions.
Dr Jamie recommends that parents are attentive to what children pay an interest to or describe when telling you a story and use that to inform your conversation – this is a great way to extend their use of language. For instance, if your child has picked up a teddy bear, you might say “Wow, I like your teddy bear. Does it have a name?” You can also practice language expansions by building on what your child has said. For instance, if your child said, “the cat”, you can respond by saying “yes, the cat is looking at the dog”. By responding to your child’s interests, you can imitate more adult-like conversations.
The way you respond to mistakes can also be hugely helpful for teaching them and improving their language. You can model the correct way if they have made any mistakes, taking something they say and recast it to sound correct and more adultlike. For example, if they say: ‘The little girl buyed a chocolate bar,’ you can respond: ‘Yes, the little girl bought a chocolate bar.’ This is a gentle and helpful way of slowly trying to teach them those more complex examples.
When speaking to them, or more generally when they listen to you speak with other people, letting them hear a diverse range of words in conversation can help to build a rich vocabulary. Creating an environment where they are exposed to complex and diverse language can have a real positive impact on a child’s language skills.
Reading is Dr Jamie’s number one activity to encourage language development. Research has consistently shown that reading improves children’s early language and literacy development. A love of stories can have a life-changing impact on a child’s life prospects, their mental health, wellbeing, and educational achievement, opening up a world of new possibilities.
It’s never too early to start, too! At birth, your baby will have heard your voice and will even find it comforting to start sharing stories together. From the offset, you are starting to build their vocabulary and are getting the wheels in motion for their language development. Children who read regularly with an adult in the preschool years learn language faster, enter school with a larger vocabulary and become more confident readers in school. As well as the impact it has on language, a shared activity like reading is a fantastic way of developing a loving bond with them. When we share books with children, they hear as many as 140 words from each board book and 230 words from a picture book. This amounts to an extra 47,000 – 77,00 words per year when we read just one book a day. And in households where reading is a frequent activity (around 5 books a day) children will hear 1.4 million more words during shared reading than children who are never read to.
For some young children, a tablet may seem like a more enticing activity than sitting down to read or listen to a story. But when choosing a story, be guided by what your child is interested in. If they are interested in animals, for example, see if you can find a story that features their favourite animal and is more likely to grab their attention. Audio players, such as the Toniebox, can also be hugely helpful in helping reluctant readers, exposing them to a variety of words as part of their daily routine. Even repeating the same Tonie over and over can help them to understand the story more and to remember new vocabulary. Making this a fixed part of their day, such as before bedtime, can also be a great way to bond with your child and relax them.