Developing your young child's language skills
In the second of a series of articles, BSA's education officer Cherry Hughes writes about laying a good foundation in language skills for your child.
It is particularly important for the child who stammers to start formal education with good language skills, and a confident approach to speaking and listening. A good language base will help your child to achieve his potential in written and oral work even if he does continue to stammer.
Children do not learn language just by hearing it around them. They have to communicate and interact for that to happen. Parents should regularly set aside time for talking with their child in a quiet place with no distractions or interruptions. Both the parent and the child should focus on the conversation, for example about what is happening in the child's life: listening to each other, keeping normal eye contact, with the child having plenty of time to think about answers. Parents should resist the temptation to correct any of the child's comments but can echo back the correct version of what the child said. So, if the child says "play teddy" a parent can model good speaking by saying "Oh, you play with teddy". "You play with teddy" for "play teddy". New words should be introduced, supported by pictures or photographs that are interesting to look at and talk about.
"Providing a good foundation in language skills will help your child to communicate his ideas and learn effectively at school, even if he continues to stammer."
Busy parents can also use the times when they are carrying out other tasks and talk to their child as they do so, explaining what they are doing or what is happening at the time. This chatting encourages the child to think about what he sees and to make comments himself. Messages about language use, prepositions for example, may be conveyed as objects are picked up, described and put away in cupboards, on tables etc. You can also notice sounds made by everyday activities like pans simmering, a hammer on metal, and the difference between loud and quiet sounds heard.
It is always helpful to involve as many other key adults in this talking as you can, as long as they keep to the same rules. Talking with different people helps the child to learn naturally about social language. Grandparents may have different expectations about social language and vocabulary and give the child another experience that widens his understanding of language and relationships
By the time he is ready for nursery, the child should have learned about concentrating, listening quietly, answering at his own pace, understanding and following simple instructions and expressing his own simple needs. Having these skills will lower the demands on the child who stammers so that he is more relaxed about speaking.
Extending language skills
Parents can also help their child who stammers to achieve their potential in academic work. They should provide a diet of varied language at home that goes beyond the everyday and functional. They should read with their child regularly so he enjoys sounds, words and stories. Acting as a favourite character in a story helps the child to understand the signals behind language. A cross voice for a fierce story character, and a meek tone for a quieter character, can convey quite sophisticated messages about tone of voice and the variations of mood possible. This will help understanding of social language and therefore interaction with other children and adults. This particularly helps a child who stammers who may be concentrating so much on his own speaking that he needs help with picking up social signals of mood and tone in conversation.
Listening to your child
An important part is also played by listening in language development: we know that many adults including teachers have a tendency to dominate the conversation when talking with a child and to ask too many questions too quickly. Sensible pausing by the adult who is talking, the breaking down of longer sentences into simpler ones, giving opportunities for the child to just sit quietly and think before talking, will all help the quality of language used. The child should be encouraged to use words as he chooses, perhaps playing with rhymes and sounds and even inventing new words and phrases of his own.
Providing a good foundation in language skills will help your child to communicate his ideas and learn effectively at school, even if he continues to stammer.
For any enquiries relating to school issues for your child, contact Cherry on 01606 77374 or email email@example.com
From the Summer 2008 issue of 'Speaking Out', page 15
Back to the top