Look Who's Talking
A good grasp of language at an early age is crucial for the overall healthy development of a child. Research consistently shows a high correlation between good language skills in the preschool years and emotional maturity and effective social skills later in later childhood (1). Interestingly, success at school is also heavily dictated by a child’s communication environment and language skills before the age of 2 (2). It is essential therefore that both family at home and early years staff in childcare settings encourage and support language acquisition in children.
What is Language?
Many people struggle to come up with a concise definition of language because it covers so many things. When we consider what language is, we consider the following areas:
- Language is a series of words and sentences that convey meaning to others
- Language is a way to communicate through means such as talking, reading, writing, braille and sign language
- Language is part of culture, with more than 7,000 spoken languages in the world (including dialects)
Yet this still does not cover the whole concept of language. Language is not just the spoken or written word, it is the subtle facial expressions and the accompanying hand gestures. It is the tone of voice and the unspoken, inferred meaning transmitted between people. Language is far more sophisticated than the communication we see in other species: it is the way in which humans share knowledge, make connections, build communities and grow civilisations.
Language starts with a newborn baby’s eye contact, a toothless, gummy smile or a cry of upset. There are no words, but these movements and noises are a language all of their own, unique to that child and family.
Modelling Good Use of Language with Your Child
Being a good role model for language development is vital. It is helpful sometimes to make a conscious pause and think about your body language, your tone and the words you are using, and to make sure you are fully engaging with your child, allowing them to develop their language as they play.
Play should be child-led, even if that means play time sometimes heads in a completely different direction to the one you first envisaged! While you are playing try to:
- Speak clearly
- Make eye contact (get down to the child’s level if necessary)
- Repeat sentences back to the child, replacing mistakes with corrections
- Repeat sentences back to child, expanding on the vocabulary they have used
- Describe and comment on what you are doing
Books are a great place to start working on language development. Sharing books with even the youngest of children has huge benefits. From the closeness of sitting on a loved one's lap while they read and talk about the pictures they can see, to discussing what may happen on the next page; every part of the experience is helping a child to model their language development, whilst also instilling a love of books!
Playing with your children, joining in with their games, building dens, asking open-ended questions encourage your child to think of more than a simple one word answer. All of these are powerful tools in helping your child to develop their language skills, which will ultimately have a huge impact on their life to come.