Promoting Language Development
Updated: Oct 17, 2019
Language is something we don't necessarily "teach" our children. Its not like we sit and give lessons to our 6 month old on proper grammar or verb conjugations. In fact, as soon as they can hear (in the womb) babies are already beginning their language development.
Children begin with sounds. Identifying the sounds they hear in your speech will provide the basis for their language. This is called phonemic awareness. They combine sounds to produce syllables. This is when we first hear them say "mama" or "papa". These syllables become words when they can say or hear them and know they have a meaning. Single words become short phrases then sentences. Children begin to use correct syntax, rules for using words, as their word knowledge and vocabulary grow.
We have all gone through the above milestones. These milestones are standard for monolingual and bilingual children. It is our job to expose our children to as much use of the targeted languages. This is how we "teach" our children how to speak.
12 Tips to Promote Language Development
List adapted from Raising a Bilingual Child by Barbara Zurer Pearson, Ph.D.
Tip 1: Be Conversation Partners
Whether your child is babbling, attempting to say words, or speaking complete sentences be sure to practice turn-taking and provide opportunities to have conversations in either language. Whatever we do (bath time, changing, taking a walk etc.) we are having a conversation. Asking questions or describing what we are doing or what we see. Taking all the opportunities to talk will go a long way.
Tip 2: Positive Phrases
Pick and choose your words wisely. The way you say it matters. Use positive statements rather than statements that prohibit them from doing something. Stay away from "No ___" or "Stop ___" Sometimes I fall into the bad habit of telling my oldest to stop a certain behavior. Quickly I tend to rephrase my statement and simply either ask her to do the behavior that I am seeking or let her know I appreciate how she does a certain positive behavior. So quickly, "Para de pelear con tu hermano" turns into, "I love seeing you share with your brother!"
Tip 3: Pay attention to their Interests
When your child brings up a topic, run with it! My daughter has a lovey she likes to take with her wherever she goes. Her lovey takes on a personality and enjoys or dislikes certain things. When she brings it up I simply go along for the ride. I ask follow-up questions and even interact with it simply because thats what she wants to talk about at that very moment.
Tip 4: Celebrate Their Attempts to Communicate
Laughing is for having a good time, but be sure to catch yourself before laughing at the way they say something, even if its cute. My daughter prefers to speak Spanish. When she attempts to speak in English she has an interesting accent. My husband and I catch ourselves chuckling, but quickly continue on with the conversation rather than focus on the fact that she sounds funny.
Tip 5: No Need to Correct
Instead of correcting their mistakes pay attention to what they are saying rather than how they say it. Many times when I have the urge to correct how my children say something I simply repeat then expand on what they said.
Tip 6: Expand Their Ideas
In order to grow their vocabulary and expand their syntax, be sure to describe and ask questions about whatever they bring up. My one year old son loves our pets. He began to identify our cat as "kitty." We take that and follow up with "¿Dónde está Waldo? Está durmiendo el la cama. ¡Hay, Waldo, ya levántate!"
Tip 7: Listen
Give them the floor. Allow for them to share their ideas and simply listen to what they have to say. Not to mention, your also providing them an example for being an attentive listener. I must admit, finding a balance of who is speaking is difficult - especially during the early stages.
Tip 8: Ask Open-Ended Questions
In order for your child to practice more than responding with a quick yes or no, be sure to ask questions that allow them to describe and share more. We live close to an amusement park and purchased the season passes this past summer. Going on rides never gets old for them. I often ask them about their experience, what they saw, how they chose the seat they chose etc. instead of simply asking if they liked it or not.
Tip 9: Create Stories or Songs
Does your child have favorite stories or songs? Take it up a notch, and create your own with a different character or use the same tune. Lately, my daughter has been singing the Happy Birthday song and Las Mañanitas whenever she gets a chance. I asked her if she knew a different song to sing and all of the sudden she began signing about what she as doing. We all applauded her ingenuity.
Tip 10: Interact While Using Media
Reading a book or watching TV should still be opportunities to talk and interact with your little ones. Asking questions and describing what you see in all situations. We watch Netflix from time to time and our daughter often chooses to watch her shows in Spanish. For example, we have watched Coco a million times, each time we rewatch it we talk about the characters and describe what we see. Sure, to some this may be killing the movie when we are talking throughout the entire film - but most importantly we are using the time to grow vocabulary.
Tip 11: Play and Learn
Playing is not only fun, but can also be a learning opportunity. We love playing with sensory bins at home. Often my daughter will request her favorite "horses in colored rice"and she can easily sit there for a half hour or more. I allow her to do this on her own - after all I do want my children to learn how to entertain themselves. Of course, the teacher in me will sometimes sit beside her and begin practicing counting the horses, grouping them by color, or make-up stories them. I try to keep a balance though, being mindful of her time to just have fun.
Tip 12: Move and Talk
There are so many songs that require our little ones to use their bodies or hands in motion. My daughter loves "Un Pulpito" (Spanish version of "Slippery Fish") and when we sing it we always make the hand motions that go with it. This allows her to sing a song while practicing vocabulary and building her speech. My son also has a few favorite finger plays such as "Open Shut Them" which he may not be able to say but he sure follows along with the motions while I sing it for him - allowing him to build his vocabulary and speech.