10 top techniques to develop children’s speech and language

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I CAN's speech and language expert Jon Gilmartin shares his tips for early years practitioners

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Jon Gilmartin, I CAN speech and language adviser: 'Don’t be afraid to talk in funny voices or have daft conversations'

With the best summer we’ve had for many years giving us all a good excuse to slow down and snooze in the shade, let’s not forget that we can create opportunities to support children’s speech and language development whatever the weather, wherever we are and have fun while we do.

Here are I CAN’s 10 top techniques to develop children’s speech, language and communication skills in an early years setting or classroom.

  1. Get the child’s attention first: Get down to the child’s level and engage their attention before speaking or asking a question. Young children can find it challenging to listen and carry on with an activity at the same time. Saying their name first to get their attention encourages them to stop and listen.

  2. Give the child time to respond: Children often need time to put their thoughts together before answering, so give them longer to respond than you would with an adult. Make sure to maintain eye contact as you wait for them to complete their remark.

  3. Use all the senses to help teach new words: Make learning new vocabulary fun and memorable. For example, if you’re teaching the names of fruits, encourage the child to feel and smell the various fruits as they learn the words. Another idea is to use familiar songs and rhymes as a learning tool by missing out words for the child to fill in.

  4. Build on what the child says to you: Talking very clearly, add one or two more words to the child’s sentence. For instance, if the child says ‘look, car’, you could say ‘yes, it’s a red car’. By doing this you’ll be signalling that you’ve heard what they’ve said and modelling the next stage of language development.

  5. Use the full range of expression: Speak in a lively, animated voice and use gestures and facial expressions to back up your words. You’ll be giving more clues about what your words mean. This can be very useful if the child is struggling to understand language. You’ll also be demonstrating the importance of non-verbal communication.

  6. Rather than criticise, demonstrate the right way: Praise the child’s efforts, even if the results aren’t perfect. If a child makes an error in a word or sentence, simply say the correct version rather than pointing out the mistake. For example, if the child says ‘I goed’ to the park’, you might say ‘wow, you went to the park’.

  7. Use simple, repetitive language: Keep sentences short. Describe what you are doing during everyday activities (‘I’m washing a cup’). Repeat your words nice and clearly. Saying things more than once makes it easier for children to join in and pick up new words.

  8. Imitate the child’s language: With very young children, simply imitate their words and sentences. This will show them that you’re valuing their words and will encourage them to keep on talking.

  9. Be careful with questions: Try not to ask too many questions, especially ones that sound like you’re testing the child. The best questions are those that challenge the child to think rather than give an instant answer, like yes or no. Too many questions can block the flow of natural conversation.

  10. Make learning language fun! Play around with words, sounds and sentences. Don’t be afraid to talk in funny voices or have daft conversations. The more children see you experimenting with language, the more likely they will be able to try it for themselves. Experimenting with language is a vital aspect of learning.

Jon has been a qualified speech and language therapist (SLT) for over 14 years.  He is a member of I CAN’s Advisory team of specialist teachers and speech and language therapists. Jon’s work includes specialist provision for services working with children with severe to profound speech, language and communication needs. He helped to develop the licensing scheme for the launch of I CAN’s award nominated intervention Talk Boost and worked with the evaluation team on the development and roll out of I CAN’s early years intervention, Early Talk Boost.

  • Use the following link for a free downloadable poster version of the tips: https://bit.ly/2Jm3aJi  
  • If you have concerns about a child’s talking, you can call the I CAN Enquiry Service to talk to a speech and language therapist on 020 7843 2549 for a confidential chat.
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