Laying the foundations for speech - This is the second of two posts focusing on language development in babies and toddlers. Here we provide an overview of how you can actively encourage language development in babies and toddlers.  From baby sounds to structure and meaning, we have some top tips here for parents and nannies.

Our top tips for encouraging language development in children

As babies play and interact they begin to make sense of the world. When babies and children have a positive experience of communicating with others they are more likely to want to interact further. And as language use and understanding increases so do confidence, self-esteem and independence. Here are our top tips for encouraging speech and self-expression by making talking fun, enjoyable and relevant to children.

1.    Acknowledge, copy and respond to your baby’s babbling or child’s speech. Even if you don’t understand what they’re trying to say, it’s important and meaningful to them. You can also add to their utterances or baby sounds to help ‘grow’ their repertoire and enable them to express themselves.

2.    Comment on what your child is doing – because their own actions are the most relevant and meaningful to them! This also shows that what matters to them matters to you too, giving your child the motivation to express themselves.

3.    Start with what your child knows. Use every day experiences such as dressing, mealtimes, play and rest as opportunities for conversation and encourage interaction by describing familiar objects and actions. This way language can be explored within a familiar, meaningful context.

4.    Asking relevant questions during a conversation can help children to expand their thinking and communicating skills, for example when used to talk about why something happened. But try to avoid questioning in order to ‘test’ your child about their knowledge of language – e.g. what colour is this, what is this called. It’s not linked to progress in language development, whereas discussion and ‘natural exchange’ is.

5.    Be available for communication by making eye contact frequently. It’s also important to model the turn-taking structure that communication is based upon by pausing and listening after you have spoken. It’s easy to want to fill silence with our own speech, but often children are thinking and processing, and some need a little more time than others to respond. Let conversation happen at a pace that your child is comfortable with to avoid putting pressure on them to talk.

6.    Play games with language sounds and patterns in songs, rhymes and stories. Young children particularly like repetition and rhyming, changes in pitch, speed and volume of speech, and also obscure, difficult and made-up words because they sound so unusual. Books are a wonderful resource because they encourage thought and conversation, and help children to make sense of unfamiliar language.