Language development starts very early in life. A foetus can hear from five months after conception, so it’s important to stimulate your child’s speech development from a very early age.
- Imitating and repeating are always very important. The word that you want to teach your child must be repeated often and in different contexts. For example, when teaching the word ‘big’, let your little one look for ‘big’ objects in the house and then for ‘small’ objects.
- To teach your little one verbs (or ‘action’ words), use squeaky toys, drums, a hairbrush, a cup, a hat – anything with which you can perform an action. When using these objects, let your child do the same (for example, ‘push the car’, ‘drink your juice’, ‘comb your hair’, ‘put on your hat’). When doing the activity, let your toddler copy your sentence or use his own sentences.
- To teach your child nouns (or ‘object’ words), give him the opportunity to express himself; to use nouns as social words (‘yes, please’, ‘good morning’, ‘goodnight’) and modifiers (‘cold’, ‘there’, ‘here’, ‘small’, ‘big’). Associate these words with an activity – for example, waving and saying ‘goodbye’. When he understands the word, do the action and wait for him to respond with an appropriate word.
- Encourage your toddler to follow verbal directions during everyday activities such as mealtimes. Name the different foods, where they come from, and later look for pictures in magazines to refresh your child’s memory. Also name the different utensils you use. For instance, say: “This is a spoon and we use it for …”, or “This is a knife and we use it to …” Remember that the learning should be spontaneous. Don’t ask your child to repeat everything every time; rather get a response by saying: “I wonder what Mommy is using to cut the carrots?” Subsequently, your child won’t feel pressured and the learning will be made easier.
- Songs and rhymes are excellent to enhance your child’s vocabulary. Songs that require movements and certain tasks such as jumping, clapping hands or running in circles are fun forms of teaching words.
- Teach your toddler his body parts on himself or a doll. Repeat this when bathing your child and when dressing him.
- Books are essential for expanding your toddler’s vocabulary. Story time is a great way to introduce new words and illustrations. As he looks at the illustrations, tell him what they are. Read to your child as much as possible – not only is it great for bonding, but he will develop a love for reading.
- Make-believe play is a great way to encourage social language. You can have a ‘tea party’ with your child, a ‘visit to the doctor’ or a ‘picnic.’ Use the appropriate words, do the actions and tell him what you are doing (for example, “I’m pouring tea into a cup”).
- Use flash cards. Let your child take his time looking at the cards and naming the pictures. When you teach your child colours, you can also use flash cards or little coloured balls. With every new thing you teach your child, hide the object and when he finds it, ask him to name it. For example, if you are teaching him the names of different fruits, hide the fruit somewhere and let him look for and identify each one.
- Take your child on outings to learn new objects and actions. Verbalise what he does and sees, and repeat it often, even after returning from your trip. A good idea is to take pictures while on your outing and later look at them, encouraging your child to tell you what he has learned.
- Always give your child time to verbalise. Listen to what he says, and should he use the wrong words or incorrect sentence construction, don’t tell him it’s wrong. Instead, repeat his sentence in the correct way.
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