How Children Learn Language

Toddler in the snowParents often ask what the next steps are for their children learning language and how long it will take to catch up to “normal.” Children start with naming objects using single words and progress to adding a second word for a meaningful two-word combination  like, “big truck,” “car go” or “more juice.” Each word that is added to their verbalizations adds meaning.

I have been working with a 2 1/2 year-old for almost a year and his mom relayed what he had said on the way to school that day. This mom has been vigilant in keeping word lists to show me her son’s progression each week so she knew how his language gains were demonstrated by his descriptions of a stop sign:

Here is the progression of his comments as his language has expanded and grown:

  • “Stop” when he saw the stop sign
  • “Stop sign,” as he started to put two words together
  • “There is stop.” “I see stop.” as he added a third word to his phrases.
  • “The car stops at the stop,” was his latest comment which clearly adds meaning to his description, telling the function of the stop sign.
With each added word, children add exponentially more meaning. One little word has a lot of power!
How do you help your child advance through each step, adding words to their utterances?
Here are some ways to encourage language expansion:
  • When your child says a word, naming something in his environment like, “Truck,” affirm him with, “Yes! A truck, a red truck, the truck goes.” Talk in short little sentences, grammatically correct, as you add on to his one word.
  • Add on adjectives and action verbs that relate to what he is doing or playing with. Kids take in more language when we are talking about what they are focused on and playing with. Adjective and action verbs carry more meaning to a little one than an article like “the.” “Hit ball” conveys more meaning than “the ball.” Don’t worry, he will fill in the articles and lettle words later.
  • Don’t always talk in 3 or 4 word sentences. Thoughout your day, also talk as if you are giving a running commentary on what you and your child are doing and thinking.
This entry was posted in Birth-3 year-olds, Language, Preschool, Speech and Language Delay, Strategies to Encourange Language Development. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to How Children Learn Language

  1. I love this post!!!
    I often find myself telling parents the same thing….. even in therapy, I sometimes drop the articles and ask the child to imitate me in requesting an object….this way, they most often can follow your lead because they don’t have too many words they need to remember and repeat….. once their foundation becomes stronger, I start introducing the articles when they are imitating and found that it’s a much easier transition for them… 🙂

  2. sherry says:

    You’re right, The words that carry the most meaning are the ones that kids remember AND help us know what they are talking about!

    Thanks for the encouragement!


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