Language development refers to how and when children learn the socially shared rules for communicating, such as what words mean, how to make new words, how to put words together in sentences and what words are appropriate for what situations. Children learn many of these rules during early childhood. Parents need to support language development during the first five years of a child's life to ensure that the child learns to communicate well and is ready to learn to read.
Observe whether your infant's hearing is normal. Starting at birth, your child should startle at loud noises. By 3 months, she should quiet or smile when you talk to her -- and by 7 months, she should turn and look in the direction of sounds and respond to her name, according to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association.
Talk to your infant throughout the day. Babies need to hear language regularly to learn it, so discuss what you're doing, where you're going and what you infant is seeing.
Teach your baby to imitate gestures. Not only does this prepare him for taking turns when engaging in conversation, it also helps him associate meaning with words. He should start imitating your gestures between 7 and 12 months, reports the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association.
Watch for delays in milestones. The American Academy of Pediatrics suggests talking to your toddler's pediatrician if at age 2, he can memorize songs and his ABCs, and/or repeats scripts from television shows, but can't ask for what he wants, tunes others out, and/or uses odd phrases. A 2-year-old should have between 50 and 100 words in his vocabulary and speak in three-word phrases.
Use simple, clear speech when speaking to your toddler. A toddler will likely imitate what you say, so make sure that your language is grammatically correct and age-appropriate rather than just "baby" talk like "nana" for banana. Short sentences like, "Now it's time for breakfast" and "It's time for a bath," are appropriate.
Expand on your toddler's language. When your child says, "bird," you can respond by saying, "Yes! That is a blue bird. It is flying." Not only are you showing that you are interested in what he has to say, you're helping him expand his vocabulary.
Exchange questions. You probably started asking your child questions before he could even respond, like "Are you hungry?" and "Do you need a your diaper changed?," but as a preschooler, he's ready to try asking you questions as well. By helping him formulate questions, you're helping him understand new ways to put words together, according to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. You can take turns asking questions. For example, you might ask him what his favorite color is -- and then encourage him to ask you yours.
Encourage imaginary play. Help your child act out typical scenarios like making breakfast or going to the store, either will dolls or through dress up games, explains The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (reference 3). This lets your child try out language in new situations.
Play guessing games. Give your preschooler a few clues or a short description and let your child guess what you're describing. For example, you might say, "I'm thinking about an animal who lives in the jungle and roars. Can you guess what that animal is?" If your child is ready, you can let him give you clues as well.
- Read to your child throughout early childhood. Even an infant can benefit from hearing the language patterns in simple books.
- Dealing with language development in early childhood doesn't mean you need to use flashcards or worksheets; it means you need to interact with your little one, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.
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