Communication: Simple Ways to Expand Language Development
Speech Development—As humans, we are hardwired for language. Language is built in. All animals communicate. Whether it be for safety, comfort or food – all animals communicate. But humans have evolved communication into something infinitely more complex – language. And that propensity for language appears to be built into the brain when we’re born. Language is in an incredible feat of biological wiring.
And there are things you can do, as a parent, to make the most of that biological potential.
The reason I want you to know this technique is because it’s the one I teach over and over again. It’s the most fundamental of language development techniques, but it’s just not automatic for everyone: language expansion.
Use the Principle of Multiplication
Language expansion is based on the principle of multiplication. What your child gives you, you give him back by a factor of three. Or five. Or ten.
Children in the earliest stages of language development speak in single words. By about age two, they’re giving your two-word phrases. Language expansion says that whatever you hear from them, you make bigger and then give back. So if they’re giving you a single word, you give back a sentence.
When your son says, “Ba!” for ball, you answer with, “Yes! That’s a big red bouncy ball! Bounce bounce bounce!” You are doing two things with this response. You are validating what they’ve said with your attention and your confirmation (and let’s be honest – who doesn’t want validation?) and you’re giving them back vocabulary in context.
Babies hear lots of words. Thousands of them. But despite the amazingly rapid development of their brains, they still have little context programmed in there yet. So when you give them words paired with a thing, an action or a situation, you are grounding the words into something concrete. Oh! This thing is a BALL! Yes! And when I say “ba!” you know what I mean! And red? What is red? Not sure yet, but clearly it has something to do with this thing! Tell me more!
Think Beyond the Noun
When you’re employing language expansion, think beyond the noun. Nouns often make up the bulk of your child’s first dozen words or so. So when your daughter gives you a noun, offer a few attributes. What color is it? What does it do? Where does it live? How did you get it? How does it feel? Taste? Smell?
The great thing about language expansion is that it can happen anywhere. This is especially good when you’re losing your mind a little bit with the toddler in the car or the shopping cart. You can make a story out of the cereal, the dump truck, the piles of apples or the stop sign. Every observation they make, you make bigger.
Words words and more words. I bet Shakespeare’s mom did this.
How have you helped your child to expand his/her language?
Lori is a speech-language pathologist and hosts the website Your Child Talking where she shares advice on speech and language for parents of both typically and atypically developing kids. You can also find her on twitter @YCtalking.
Latest posts by Lori (see all)
- Language Development: When Children Say Their First Words - February 21, 2015
- Communication: Simple Ways to Expand Language Development - July 13, 2011
- Language Development: Playing on the Floor Can Help Develop Social Skills - May 11, 2011