4 Everyday Tips to Encourage Language Development

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4 Everyday Tips to Encourage Language Development

July 18, 2022
posted by Amirra Condelee

An Introduction to Receptive & Expressive Language Skills

One of the most exciting milestones that parents look forward to is hearing their child say their first words. There’s nothing quite like watching your baby look at you and say “mama” or “dada” for the first time. While language development is complex and looks different for every child, it’s important to understand how you as the parent can help facilitate healthy communication skills.


Did you know that language development actually begins way before you ever hear your child say their first words? In fact, there are key communication milestones your child will learn to master while in infancy. Skills such as using different cries to express different needs, response to auditory stimulation, and even beginning to coo and smile are all ways infants communicate their needs and wants.


As your child gets older, they begin to understand language, follow simple directions, and gather information about the world through verbal and nonverbal communication. This is also known as receptive language skills. When a child reaches a certain point in their receptive language skills, they’ll begin to use the language that they’ve learned to express themselves. This is known as expressive language skills.


The development of both receptive and expressive language is necessary for your little one to have healthy communication skills. Since communication skills start to develop from the moment a child enters this world, it is never too early to begin encouraging these skills. While reading books and looking at flash cards are ways to help improve language skills, sometimes it’s hard to find the time to squeeze in dedicated language learning time in your already busy routine. That’s why it's a good idea to understand how to encourage healthy language development during everyday routines and activities, which is what you’ll be learning about in this post! That’s good news for you, because it means it’s easy to incorporate these tips & tricks into your everyday routine.




4 Everyday Tips to Encourage Language Development

Tip #1: Narrate Actions During Activities of Daily Living


The first step towards easily embedding language development in everyday life is to identify what activities you and your child participate in the most. There are some common ones we refer to as “Activities of Daily Living” which include activities such as dressing, bathing, grooming, and eating.


Identify which activities your child enjoys the most. If your child really isn’t a fan of getting dressed, it might not be the best time to work on language because your child probably isn’t in the best mood. However, if your child loves bath time, this is a great opportunity to implement tip #1. Narration is exactly how it sounds: describing the actions that you and your child are doing during an activity.


Example: Let’s make some bubbles! Mommy is going to pour the bubble bath in the water. Pour, Pour, Pour. Let’s add some water now. Here comes the water. Look at all the bubbles. Let’s put some bubbles on your head. Look at the bubbles on your head. That’s so silly. Uh-Oh, the bubbles are popping! Pop, Pop, Pop. Should we make more bubbles? Okay, let’s add more bubble bath! Can you help Mommy squeeze the bubbles into the water?


Why it works: Many children engage in play and exploration on their own. This is known as independent play and is actually an indication of healthy development. However, when children play independently, they may not have the words to identify what they are doing and therefore play silently or use sound effects. When you engage in play with your child and use narration techniques, you are giving your child the words to identify what they are doing. This activity encourages healthy expressive language development.




Tip #2: Use Repetition of Simple Words and Sounds


When it comes to expanding a vocabulary, studies have shown that children learn through repetition and repeated exposure. This is especially true when introducing new words to your young child.


Remember that it’s important for your child to understand a word for them to use it regularly and appropriately. When you use repetition with your child, they are more likely to understand the word and then repeat it in its appropriate context. The great thing is that this works well for both words, actions, or environmental sounds such as: boom, bang, crash, push, up, down.


Example: Where are the bubbles? Oh there are the bubbles! The bubbles are big. What do the bubbles do? The bubbles go pop, pop, pop! Time to make more bubbles. Let’s push the bubbles away. Push, push, push! Oh no the ducky just hit the bubbles. Boom, boom, boom!


Why it works: In this example, the emphasis is on the word “bubbles” so that the child is hearing the word and understanding how to use it in the correct context. The action words provide additional language development and exposure to new words in a way that won’t overwhelm the child.


Repetition is a great way to introduce and expose your child to a specific new word to help expand their vocabulary. The incorporation of sounds is a fun way to encourage your child to identify words that go along with actions and/or body movements.




Tip #3: Make Storytime Engaging and Language Rich


For many parents, one of the first things that comes to mind when thinking about language development is the use of stories and books. There are thousands of popular children's books for all ages and stages of development that encourage communication. Books are an engaging way to keep your child’s attention while also sneaking in some great learning time.


While it can be tempting to simply read the text and flip through the pages, there are several other ways you can use story time to work on language, such as pointing to a familiar item and labeling the item while using repetition techniques.


Example: Do you see the cow? Where is the cow? Oh there is the cow! What does the cow say? The cow says moo! Can you say moo? Mm-Mm-Mm-Mmooooo.


Why it works: Remember that children learn by repetition and repeated exposure. Children’s books are great for exposing your child to a new word but sometimes the word isn’t repeated several times. By utilizing this technique, it creates more attention and interest in the story while also working to reinforce a specific new word.


One way to make this even more fun is to use a toy used in the story. For example, if you are reading a story about farm animals and your child has a set of farm animal toys, you can incorporate the toys during story time. A great technique to try is called labeling. Labeling is when you bring the item up to your mouth so that your child sees the item and hears the word at the same time.




Tip #4: Create Verbal Routines & Teach Through Music 


If you were at a race and heard the phrase “Ready…Set…” what next word would your brain immediately think of? Chances are, you’d probably say “Go!” in your head. The phrase “Ready, Set, Go” is often said during a specific event, such as a race. This is known as a “verbal routine” and can be very powerful in encouraging language development for little ones.


You can create a verbal routine by identifying a specific activity (such as cleaning up, diaper change, or getting dressed) and specific phrase (or song!) that goes along with the activity.


Example: It’s time to clean up our toys! Ready to sing the clean up song? Here we go. Clean up, clean up, everybody everywhere, clean up, clean up, everybody do your share!


Why it works: Have you ever heard a song that you haven’t heard in months, but the lyrics come right to you? Have you ever recognized a TV theme song and instantly thought about a certain show? Music is an incredible tool that the brain uses to make associations.


Children are often exposed to nursery rhymes and songs with actions such as “if you’re happy and you know it, clap your hands”. When a child hears the song, they will likely begin to engage in the actions that go along with the music. After creating a verbal routine and engaging in it regularly, your child will likely begin to associate that activity with a particular set of words (or actions, if it’s a song).




Pre-Communication Skills and Language Development

It can be easy to only associate communication with your child’s first words, but it’s important to note the abundance of pre-communication skills such as pointing, gesturing, joint attention, facial expressions, and vocalizations that should all be recognized and celebrated along the way. The progression of these skills are equally important to encourage healthy language development.  


Remember that language development looks different for every child and happens at different times. There is a wide age range of when you can expect your child to begin regularly using verbal language. While it can be frustrating when you feel your child isn’t speaking as much as you’d like, remember that language development is complex. It takes time, practice, and patience.


If you have a concern about your child’s delayed communication, contact your pediatrician or your state’s early intervention program who may be able to provide additional support.


While there are a variety of resources to support communication development for your child,the most natural place to encourage language is in your home during your everyday routines and activities!