How You Can Support Language Development in Your Child?

Language development in the early years of life is crucial for your child to be ready for learning to read and write once they start school.  Young children implicitly learn to speak and understand the language of their world, but as parents, there is so much you can do to explicitly support and nurture this development.  The more meaningful language-based interactions a young child has, the stronger the child’s neural pathways for processing and understanding language become. These then provide the child with the ability to make connections between sounds, symbols, and meaning, which are the basis of being able to read, write and communicate effectively.  

However, sometimes the brain is unable to wire effectively due to several reasons. This is why early identification and intervention of hearing, speech and processing difficulties is so essential. If your baby isn’t babbling or responding to speech and sounds around them, this is a significant issue, and firstly their hearing should be checked by a specialist Paediatric Audiologist. Significant or reoccurring ear infections can affect a baby and child’s ability to hear, which affects the brain’s ability to process different sounds, and inflections and discriminate speech from background noise.  You can test your young child’s hearing and response by making a range of noises and speech from behind them where they are unable to use their other senses to enact a reaction. By 4 months of age, your baby should react to sounds (even if just a startle response) so follow your intuition. If you believe that your baby or child has problems with their hearing, then push for an assessment with an ENT or Paediatric Audiologist. This will ensure that the right treatment can be put in place early and before the brain accommodates the hearing loss, which will require more work later to rewire the brain for effective language development and learning. 

By 8 months of age, your baby should be starting to respond to their name and simple instructions such as ‘wave bye-bye’ or ‘come’ (Marotz & Allen, 2016). By age 2, your child should be able to follow 1 step instructions and be using 50-300 new words during this year. Most 2-year-olds’ receptive language (what is being said to them) is far more advanced than their expressive language, and they often speak in a way that has meaning to them but is not understood by others (Beuker et al., 2013).  This can cause the child to be frustrated as they are communicating their needs but are not being understood. To support your child with this, you need to use other cues to try and understand what they are saying, for example, are they pointing to something you can then model the language necessary for them to learn from? “Oh, you would like mummy to get your teddy….mummy get your teddy?”.  The child will feel less frustrated and also more confident in their ability to communicate.  If by 2.5 they are not trying to communicate verbally with you or will not engage in eye contact or point to objects this can be an early sign of Autism which should be assessed by a relevant professional (Marotz & Allen 2016).  If your child fails to follow simple instructions or needs you to repeat and demonstrate requests, this is also an area of concern, especially by age 3. This may be indicative of processing difficulties, and an early intervention program is also imperative. 

As parents and caregivers, you must talk with your baby and young child quite a lot. For example, describing the bath or nappy changing process, or what they are doing, chat with them about what you see around you.  Watching people/characters on television/iPads is not adequate for language development, you need to have conversations with your baby/child. Acknowledge their responses physical/ emotional/ language “oh you think that is funny?” “you like that big dog, don’t you”. This will cement the brain to understand the purpose and usefulness of language communication in our world.  As your baby/child gets older respond to their questions, 2-4-year-olds are super inquisitive and often ask why? Respond in sentences, use describing words and the proper names for objects, people, and places. This will build your child’s vocabulary, and they will develop an understanding of sentence structure. Ask your child questions, and use questions that allow for more than yes/no responses. Model sentence structure to your child through mirroring for example child may say “dog running” you can report back “yes the dog is running”, emphasise the added words. Don’t expect your child to copy you; their brain is taking on the information. 

Reading with your baby and child is so crucial on so many levels.  Reading with your child helps bonding and attachment, they begin to recognise rhyme and rhythm, they develop their ability to differentiate and recognise different speech sounds. They also build their vocabulary and develop an understanding that words communicate meaning.  Excellent authors to read to young children include Mem Fox, Pamela Allen, Dr Seuss, Julia Donaldson, Aaron Blabey. These books are enjoyable to contain lots of rhyme and are often repetitive in the words and sounds they use, which is beneficial in wiring the brain.  When reading with your child, let them open the cover and turn pages, this will encourage the child’s eye-tracking, fine motor and sense of belonging in the reading process. As your child gets older, you can talk about the characters, their names, what they look like how they may be feeling etc.  All of these skills are fundamental to understanding and enjoying reading.  

Singing songs, reading nursery rhymes and playing games that contain songs or rhyme is fantastic as children learn significantly quicker if the learning is playful. There are lots of preschool/kindergarten songs you can find on the web. Research has shown that a baby/young toddler is more responsive to their parents/caregivers singing to/with them than if they are just listening to the music. Dance and use actions with the songs you sing as the movement involved also helps your child’s body and brain wire up for more effective learning as well as improving gross motor development. 

Please allow your child lots of opportunities to play away from screens and please play with your child. Following their lead – describing what they are doing and copying their play is an essential first step in play. Play is central to a child’s interaction, learning, and understanding of their world. Language development will be accelerated through your child playing with you and other adults and children. By the time your child is 4, they should be starting to engage in imaginative and social role-playing experiences either by themselves or with other children. If your child is not moving towards this type of play by the time they reach kindy, this is a sign they need support with their social and emotional development. If you are playing imaginary games with your child, encourage conversations, ask questions, and support but do not control the play process.


Writing or symbol-making is also central to the language/literacy cycle.  We live in a world where the handwritten word is becoming scarce, which is impacting our children’s ability to write when they start school. Make sure you have a word-rich environment at home, shopping lists, notes, etc. Encourage your child to “write” a shopping list with you. It doesn’t matter if they are just marks on the paper, those marks contain meaning for your child which is central to them making connections between writing and meaning-making. Encourage your child to draw, paint, and use chalk to communicate their ideas and thoughts. Make books with your child let them write and draw pictures in them. As they tell you about the story make notes on a separate piece of paper that way later, you can read your child’s book to them which encapsulates the whole process of language/literacy and writing/meaning-making into one.

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