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A child’s brain is often likened to a sponge, and for good reason. A child has the immense ability to consume and retain information much faster than adults can, which is why they develop at such great speed. It is therefore important that as a parent, teacher or carer of a child in their early years that you encourage their cognitive development and growth in many ways.
Picking up language incredibly fast is one of the things you will notice happens in a child’s first few years of life. They are more able to master a language at this age than they will at any other time in their life, so it’s of great importance to nurture this development.
Follow these simple childcare tips to accelerate the rate at which your young child picks up their first language.
What to expect from your child’s speech development
(Disclaimer: the below is a rough guideline; each child develops differently, at different times.)
6 – 12 months old
A child between 6 and 12 months is believed to be at their peak of language acquisition as the brain is more capable adept at consuming and retaining large volumes of new information. As a parent, you will see this incredible ability first-hand as your baby begins to grasp their native language.
By 6 months of age, a child will likely be able to communicate their needs (whether they’re hungry, tired or need changing) through cries, and will coo when they hear their mother’s voice. From then, they will start babbling and begin to move their mouths in a different way to create different sounds. This is a very important experimental phase within their speech development.
By the time a baby is 12 months old they will typically begin saying short (though mostly coherent) words, such as “mama” and “dada” and “no” and “bye bye”. This is monumental in their speech development and will improve the bond between them and their parents.
12 – 24 months old
A child’s second year of life is tremendous in terms of the milestones they reach in terms of speech. While at 12 months they may only know around 5 words, by 24 months they will may know up to 50 words, and this proves just how absorbent a child’s brain is.
This is the year when a child will start to string words together to make short sentences (around 3 words long), though they may not understand past or present tense. They may also be able to communicate with other children their age, and hold eye contact while they speak.
24 – 36 months old
Between 2 and 3 years old, children will develop enhanced communication skills due to their language ability. By the age of three, a child may know up to 200 words, and be able to use them correctly in more complex sentences, as well as know the difference between nouns and verbs. This means that they will be able to effectively communicate with adults that are not immediate family members, as well as teachers, carers and other children – even strangers.
With their confidence in language, a child will become more social. They will use their body language and gestures to communicate emotions and ideas, and will begin to develop empathy and reason.
How to encourage language and speech development at all ages
Throughout their young life, a child absorbs sounds, words, facial expressions, gestures, body language and more at an incredible rate. There are plenty of things you – as a parent, teacher or carer – can do to encourage a young child’s speech and language development, some of which are as follows.
Engage with them when they speak to encourage two-way conversation. Whenever a young child is speaking and attempting to string together words to make a sentence, encourage them by smiling and nodding along. You should also give them time to respond to your questions, as this will teach them about conversation.
Help them finish their sentences. If a child is talking in incomplete sentences, you can assist their learning by repeating what they have said but in a more coherent way. For example, if they say “poorly tummy” you could say “you have a poorly tummy?” whilst pointing to the right body part.
Explain what you’re doing when carrying out ordinary tasks. Talk to your child about the small or ordinary things you are doing. For example, whilst doing the washing up you could say, “I’m washing up the dirty dishes so that they are clean”. This will teach the child not only about sentence structure, but also about common sense in day-to-day life.
Ask them about what they’re doing. When your child is exploring something new, ask them about it. For example, if a child is playing with a toy car, ask them where the car is going. This will help to spark their imagination.
Encourage play time. Children learn best through play and exploration, so encourage this at all times, especially play with siblings and other children.
Read them stories. It is important that every day – or least before they go to sleep – that you read a young child stories. Through storybooks they learn about words and sentences, emotions, empathy, right and wrong, characters and the importance of imagination. It’s also a great opportunity to bond with them.
Sing to them. Singing nursery rhymes with your child will enhance their language skills dramatically, and the more often you sing them, the more you will improve their memory and recall. Better year, enroll them in a quality early learning day care centre where they teach music therapy for children, as this can aid their speech and allow them to explore sounds.
Praise them. One of the most important things to do whilst a child is learning anything is to encourage them for their efforts. If you don’t, you may restrict their willingness to learn.
A child’s ability to learn and retain new information is mesmerising to witness first-hand, especially considering the rate at which they can master their native language. Their skill for language must be fostered from a young age and so, as a parent, teacher or carer, you should endeavour to nurture and encourage their development through play, conversation, praise and education.