How to Foster Language at Home
Parents, family, and caregivers play an important role in language development of children. When we teach young children how to use language we need to reinforce what they are already doing and help them feel confident when they attempt to communicate. For most children, early language acquisition is instinctive. However, the manner in which adults and family members respond to their communication may have an impact on either accelerating or decelerating language development. Here are some basic strategies and techniques that can be used at home to foster language skills for both monolingual and bilingual children.
Body Language First
Spoken words are not the only form of communication. Young children use body language, point, make eye contact, cry, and make other sounds, in order to communicate with adults. These precursors to spoken language and speech should be recognized, encouraged, and positively reinforced. This helps young kids recognize that their vocalization or actions help get their needs met; in turn, young kids begin to communicating intentionally for their needs to be met. Of course, spoken words will eventually become the chosen form of communication. But, until then, the importance of nonverbal communication should not be taken for granted.
Create Opportunities to Learn
There are many opportunities that parents and caregivers can create to encourage young kids to practice their communications skills. One opportunity consists of putting items just out of reach. For example, rather than handing your child a pouch of crackers, leave it where he or she can see it and wait for them to ask for the crackers. Another opportunity consists in the way you decorate your home. Leave items just out of reach, so your child will have to ask you for items by name. The goal here is to use your home’s environment and set up in a way that encourages communications.
Storytelling and Reading
Parents, family members, and caregivers can foster language by storytelling and reading. When you are telling a story to young children, they are listening to you and how you are pronouncing the words. This is a sure way to teach kids sounds and pronunciation. Additionally, reading to your child is a great way to reinforce verbal and literacy skills. Young kids will begin to recognize words by sight and sound, in turn creating opportunities to learn and hone language skills.
Encourage Language Complexity
It is critical to encourage young kids to reach the next level of language complexity. Most young kids communicate in one or two short bursts of words. The goal is to demonstrate to your child that he or she can use three or more words in a sentence to communicate the same statement. Keep young children engaged and make them feel empowered to use new words to communicate. Making talking and communication fun, so that kids will enjoy communicating with others. Young kids naturally acquire language skills, so it is important to listen and observe them to better understand where they may need some extra instruction.
Fostering language at home can, at times, feel difficult – especially, if you are raising a bilingual child. Making sure that your child has a full understanding of both languages is important to ensure that there is no confusion and less code switching when speaking either language. The Latino Literacy Project offers information on how to foster bilingual language skills at home. The Project suggests for parents and caregivers to read bilingual books to young children, such as those by Lectura Books, so that children can learn language skills in both languages uniformly.