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Learning to talk

Here are some ways you can help your child develop their vocabulary and communication skills.

Your child has a natural desire to communicate with you and you can encourage and support them to do that. Here are a few suggestions:
• Expose your child to rich and varied language, and show interest and enthusiasm for speech.
• Talk to your baby in that universal way of speaking to babies; involving higher pitch, more contrast and emphasis, slower speech and stressed words. For example, “Yes, that’s right, it’s a BALL.” Apparently children prefer listening to language in this way.
• Encourage early attempts at “babbling” (from around six months). Babies who babble more start talking earlier and have larger vocabularies by 18 months. This is because we react positively to babies saying “mama” which helps them realize words have a purpose.
• Switch off the TV and background noise. They will learn best from interacting with you and other people.
• Talk slowly and clearly, using simple words, so your baby can understand.
• Expand their language as much as you can, introducing your child to new words, adjectives and phrases.
• Give them lots of “wait time”, and don’t finish their sentences for them. Take turns talking and allow them to lead the conversation. They need to learn how to listen as well as talk.
• Be sensitive to your child’s increase in vocabulary. Toddlers often develop sounds that mean something to them, if not immediately to you. For example, “ba” can sometimes mean bottle, “uh” up and “da” that. It is also common for single syllables to stand for complete thoughts so that “da” can mean “give me that” or “what is that?”. The more encouragement you can give them, the more likely they are to continue trying with more words and sounds.
• Encourage their speech every way you can. Ask them to repeat the words you are telling them: “Look at that dog. Can you say dog? What sound does a dog make? Can you say woof?” Ask questions that don’t just require a yes or no answer: “Yes, Dolly is sad. What happened to make her sad?” Name their body parts as you dress them in the morning, count buttons and discuss the colour and shape of their clothes. Count vegetables as you put them in bags and say what colour they are as you go round the supermarket.
• Read to your child as much as you can. It not only increases their vocabulary and makes them interested in books, but it extends their concentration span. When you come across new words, take the time to ask them if they know what they mean.
• As they grow older, make sure you talk like a grown-up. Don’t resort to saying “gettie” just because that’s how they say spaghetti.
• Correct any mispronunciations positively. If they say “tar” for car, reinforce their successful communication (it is successful because you have understood) by repeating the word using the correct form: “Yes, that’s right, it’s a CAR.”

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