20 Answers about Language Development
How to help a young child with language development? Here are 20 ideas.

1. Respond to sound with sound, speech with speech. When your baby makes gibberish sounds, make those sounds back to him or her. Sometimes act as though you know exactly what those sounds mean: “Oh, you want to get out of your crib, do you?” Sometimes just make playful sounds back.

2. Find time to “sit and talk” to baby every day. Position your little one so that your face is close to hers. Chat about anything that enters your mind, giving baby a chance to “answer.” It may feel silly talking to baby like this, but it’s so important!

3. Make your language clear. Whether it’s mumbling or background noise (dryer, dishwasher or TV), too much noise gets in the way of learning language. Try to keep your speech clear and the environment quiet.

4. Tie words to actions. Use gestures when you talk to baby, linking your actions to your words. Say, “I’m going to get you a cracker out of the cabinet,” and point as you walk.

5. Label objects and actions for baby. Explain what you’re doing as you go about your normal routine. “I’m going to put these clothes away, and then we’re going to the store.” Stress some of the key words.

6. Help baby communicate with gestures. Play games like Pat-a-Cake and So Big as soon as your baby can sit up in front of you. As baby grows, continue to use gestures and hand motions.

7. Match your language to your child’s language level in some of your speech. If baby starts calling grandma “Monie,” refer to her that way at least some of the time. It’s important to balance out baby talk and short sentences with good, clear adult speech.

8. In conversation, help little ones learn to think. Say things that make her ponder or remember. “Where did you leave your sweater?” “We’re going outside before lunch. Please get your jacket.” Such statements emphasize memory and demonstrate a time sequence to activities.

9. Remember verbs, the muscles of language. It is easy to think that if your child learns enough nouns, he will know enough words. But language complexity requires sophisticated use of verbs. If you say, “We’re going for a ride now,” stress “going” as much as “ride.”

10. From 12 months on, ask a lot of questions. Nothing facilitates thinking like a question; your child can’t respond to a question without thinking about what you have said. As she gets older and more verbal, answer her questions with a question of your own, including questions that allow for multiple answers. When reading a book, pause and ask, “What do you think the little girl will do next?”

11. Help your child become a good listener and observer. Turn down the music and point out interesting sights as you ride in the car.

12. Try to keep language happy and positive. Unfortunately, some children hear very few words that aren’t negative. If a high percentage of the words directed to him are unpleasant, it may discourage him from talking.

13. Help children express feelings and learn words that describe their feelings. “Are you sad today?” “It makes me feel very happy when you share toys with your sister.” Having words to describe feelings helps a child understand and control those feelings.

14. At a loss for words. Sometimes young children fumble for their words. They may repeat letters, syllables or words as they struggle. It’s important to wait patiently and encourage them. Try to keep it positive and avoid saying things like, “Slow down and stop repeating things.”

15. Read, read, read. Don’t let a day go by with reading at least one book together. Play find and seek, letting her point to the pictures when you say certain words.

16. Connect oral and written language. With your older preschooler, point to key words as you read a favorite book. Then go back and make up the story from your own imaginations, to make the connection that the story can be different when you don’t read the words.

17. Minding our manners. “Please” and “Thank you” can be learned at an early age. When you use them regularly (never a bad thing!), children learn to use them often, too.

18. Encourage simple memorization. Help your little one memorize:
  • Well-loved, simple poems
  • His/her name
  • Names of others in the immediate and extended family
  • Address and telephone number (as they approach 5 years old)

19. La-la-la-la-la! Sing and act out favorite songs over and over. For neighbors and family, too.

20. Listen up. Coming full circle with the first answer, (encouraging you to respond to all vocal outputs), if you listen, they will talk!
Dr. Bettye M. Caldwell Ph.D. Professor of Pediatrics in Child Development and Education