The ability to listen and speak, also called oral language skills, are the basic building blocks of effective communication. Oral language development in early childhood lays the foundation for learning to read and write when children reach school age. Language and literacy skills are essential for successfully navigating society. As a parent, there are many things you can do to give your young child a solid foundation for communication, reading, and academic success. Below are some strategies you can use to build your young child’s language skills:

  • Statements not questions
    • Parents often ask their children questions to test their knowledge and try to get them to talk—What color is the ball? How many apples are there? What is that? Instead of asking questions, it is more effective to make declarative statements that provide information and a language model for the child—Look at the green ball. There are five apples. Wow, I see a blue bird. Describing items in your environment does much more to build your child’s vocabulary and expressive language skills than asking a series of questions.
  • Self talk
    • Self talk is describing what you are doing without necessarily expecting a response from the child. For example, while you are playing with blocks you might say “I’m stacking the blocks to build a tall tower. I need more blocks. My tower will be so tall!” Self talk allows you to model appropriate language for your child without putting pressure on them to repeat or answer a series of questions.
  • Parallel talk
    • Parallel talk is similar to self talk because you do not necessarily expect imitation or a response from the child. The difference is that for parallel talk, you are describing what the child is doing and modeling the vocabulary that matches their activity. For example, if the child is playing with blocks, your parallel talk could look like this: “You’re stacking the blocks! You are building a tall tower. Uh-oh! The tower fell down!” You may notice the child saying some of the words on their own when they are playing at a later time.
  • Recasting
    • You can think of recasting as indirectly correcting grammar. If your child makes a grammatical error, instead of telling the child “no, don’t say that,” you can recast to model the correct language for the child. For example, if your child says “I catched the ball!” You can recast, “wow, you caught the ball!” and emphasize the target word. This allows you to validate what the child is saying and stay engaged with the conversation while helping them improve their grammar.
  • Expansion
    • Expansion allows you to acknowledge the child’s statement while modeling a more complete or complex version of the idea. For example, if a dog barks and then your child says “dog” in response, you can comment “yes, the dog is barking” which provides a more complete thought. This allows you to validate the child’s comments and ideas while modeling more advanced language.

As you implement these strategies, you may notice vocabulary growth, improvements in grammar, and more use of complex sentences. Building your child’s oral language skills will support literacy development and enhance their academic readiness.

By Dr. Keena Seward, AuD, CCC-A/SLP

3L Therapy Solutions, LLC