Expressive Language with Children

By Kate
Speech Therapy


Developing your child’s expressive language in the early years

Sometimes as adults we forgot that children’s language is not fully developed, in fact is our language ever fully developed? Most adults are hearing and learning new words all the time. We can often forget that learning a language is difficult, think back to your high school French class! Now imagine that that the teacher spoke to you like a native French speaker, at times this is how children will feel when adults speak to them! In this post we will think about how we can help our child best develop their expressive language skills.

Expressive language skills (this is amount of words your child has and how they use these words) are so important as it enables your child to communicate their wants and needs in the early years, as the move to school age it they need it to expressive their thoughts and ideas. Expressive language is key in all of life, think about what it would be like if you had no words for a day (this is happened me after a dentist appointment and it was a very frustrating day!) If your child has difficulty structuring sentences this will impact on their ability to communicate with their peers and form friendships, it will also impact on their ability to access the curriculum (giving their weekend news or writing about an novel)

Children are only at the beginning of their language journey and there are small things that we as adults can do to help them develop their talking without becoming a teacher or a Speech and Language Therapist. Here are my five top tips that are easy to use in your day to day life, as language learning should be fun!

1) Follow your child’s lead -  You can continue to build your child’s language skills by following their lead in play. Your child will learn language far quicker if you follow their interests. Often as adults when we play with our children, we feel the need to constantly be teaching them something and try and take control of the game/activity. If your child would rather make the make the toy figures fall off the side of the couch, then pretend they are going shopping (your idea!) go with what they want to do as they will be far more interested in the language you are using and more likely to take it on board and use it again.

2) Ask less questions - Name or comment on the items your child is looking at or interested in e.g. if they look up at a plane, name it for them. If they see a dog, you could say ‘Look-a dog.’ This is more helpful than asking ‘What’s that?’. Language learning is not supposed to be a constant test, and often we ask too many questions to test our children. Children learn no language by you asking a question. Think about the amount of question you ask your child as you should be only asking one question for every 4 comments (think of the hand rule). If you ask your child a questions please wait for them to answer as adults if ask and answer their own questions and this can be confusing for your child and we do this a lot! ‘where are your shoes? Oh there they are!’

3) Adding language - You can build on your child’s language skills by adding language. This means saying something about what they are doing, including what they can see/feel/hear/touch. You can also add to your child’s language e.g. if they say: ‘It’s a dog’ you can say ‘it’s a brown dog’ or ‘the dog is running’.

4) Keep your sentences short - Ideally one or two words. It is easier to learn a new word when you hear it on its own. (Remember learning French at school!) Adults, especially females like to use lots of descriptive words e.g. ‘look the flower is red and has a yellow middle and it smells so nice’. It would be more helpful to focus on key words ‘red and yellow flower’. This takes practice!

5) Repeat, repeat, repeat. Children have to hear a new word many times before they will use it themselves, so try to repeat the name of whatever your child is playing with several times e.g. ‘ Tractor. Here comes the tractor. Brm, brm says the tractor. Noisy tractor.’

These strategies are helpful for all children’s language learning not just children who are having difficulties in this area. If you have tried these and feel that you need more specific advice for your child please get in touch with our clinic for a consultation.


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