Author: Karen KEI
Speech and Language Therapist
Get down to your child’s level. It is important for your child to be able to see your face and all the non-verbal cues such as facial expressions, pointing and body language for them to learn language.
Join in and have fun together
Join in and play with your child. Follow your child’s lead and play as if you are your child. It is important to be child-led and use actions, songs and playful sounds to make the activity fun and engaging.
Comments not questions
Asking a lot of questions can feel like a test. Especially when your child isn’t talking yet. Instead, comment on what they are doing and what is happening to show them how to use different words and form sentences. For example, instead of saying “What colour is it?”, you can say “ The yellow bus is coming!”, “Mummy is going to cut the apple”.
Build on what they say
Listen and pay attention to what your child says. Repeat what your child says then add one word or a new vocabulary. For example, If your child says : “car”, you can say “Red car”, or “ The car is fast”. If your child says : ‘juice’, you can say ‘drink juice’, ‘orange juice’, ‘cold juice’.
Show them the right way
Young children often make mistakes. Show them that you understand, rather than asking them to repeat words correctly. Say the word or sentence again correctly for your child. For example, if they say “Look at the dod (Chinese: 豆豆”) ”, you can say “Yes, it’s a dog (Chinese: 狗狗)”.
Wait and give your child a chance to communicate
Get close to your child and wait for him/her to send you a message. For example, if your child is looking intently at another child laughing, don’t say anything and wait for him/her to communicate with you. This could be an eye-contact, pointing, or a sound. Once s/he has made an attempt, you can respond to what you think s/he is ‘’saying’’ – e.g. ‘’Yes, the girl is laughing’’.
If your child isn’t talking yet, start with using one word during play and daily routines. Make sure you are using a variety of nouns, verbs, adjectives and prepositions. This will provide a lot of exposure and opportunities for new vocabulary and communication attempts. For example, when you are dressing your child, you can say ‘diaper’, ‘clean’, ‘put on’, ‘dirty’ etc. When you are feeding your child, you can describe what is happening such as ‘carrots’, ‘hot’, ‘yummy’, ‘eat’, ‘drink’, ‘full’ ertc. For 2-3 years old toddlers, you can use short phrases, such as ‘Dirty diaper’, ‘Put on socks’, ‘Baby is full’, ‘Mummy is eating an apple’.
Make playful sounds
For those who aren’t using words, have fun playing around with meaningful sounds with toys, everyday routines or during play. For example, when you are playing games such as ‘Peekaboo’, you can make playful sounds such as ‘boo’. When playing with toy vehicles, you can make different sounds such as cars – ‘beep beep’, ‘vroom’, airplane – ‘‘woosh’, helicopter – ‘buh buh buh’, train – ‘choo-choo’, ‘chugga-chugga’, fire truck – ‘eee ooo eee ooo’ etc. For cooking set – you can make sounds such as sizzling sound, chopping vegetable sound, timer sound and slurping sound. For those who are already saying words or short phrases, you can add the playful sounds into their utterances. For example, when they say ‘Red car’, you can say ‘The red car goes vroom!’.
Create communication opportunities
For most parents and caregivers, we know what our child wants without having to speak. For many children, a simple glance or an action will do the job. However, this might not be the best for language learning as children need a lot of opportunity to practice getting their message across. You can keep desired items out of reach or out of sight so your child has to ask for it. This could be putting snacks on a higher shelf, in a tightly closed container or a ziploc bag. This way, your child can still see the desired items but unable to obtain them on their own. Hence, having the opportunity to ask you for help! For younger children, you can model saying single words such as ‘open’, ‘cookie’, ‘eat’ or show them an open palm gesture. For toddlers, you can encourage them to say ‘open bag’, ‘help me’ etc.
Providing choices for your child to practice requesting as well as learning everyday vocabulary. For example, when your child is asking for a snack, you can hold up two items in front of the child and ask ‘Do you want biscuit or juice?’. Make sure your child can see both items and wait for their response. If they reach or point to the item, you can say ‘Juice’ or ‘You want juice’. There is no need to force them to repeat after you. If they can name the item, you can respond by modelling longer sentences such as ‘I want juice’, ‘Give me biscuit’.