Cincinnati Family Magazine

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April 18, 2024

The Language Labyrinth

That’s not babble. He has something very important to say. And he’ll be very pleased if you will join him on his journey to talk.


Full1399.jpgYoder and Saffran recommend consulting a qualified speech pathologist if parents have serious concerns about their child’s language development.

Helping Kids Learn Wherever a child is in the learning process, parents can help their kids with some basic techniques.

First, Yoder recommends that parents consciously engage in linguistic mapping or putting into words the child’s non-verbal communication. For example, when a baby points to a juice bottle the parent might say, “Oh, you want the juice.”

Second, Yoder suggests focusing on compliance, which refers to children doing what parents ask them to do. For example, if a parent asks a child to open a jar, and the child completes this task, he has engaged in compliance. Compliance is important because it shows that the child understands.

Third, Yoder encourages descriptive talk. “The basic idea is talking about what the baby is doing without telling the baby what to do.” In other words, parents should describe what the baby is doing. Parents Clare and Randy Rudder did practiced this during meals with statements such as “Abigail, do you like the banana? The banana is yellow.”

Parents can also help their kids by repeating and adding to the child’s two- or three-word statement. “Something that helps is for adults to follow up on their child’s short and ungrammatical utterance with a longer utterance that is grammatical,” Yoders says.

For example, the phrase “want ball” is not grammatically correct, but following Yoder’s advice, an adult can reply to “want ball” by saying “You want the ball.” In this example, the parent gently and non-critically teaches the child that the statement needs to be a little bit longer and that the phrase requires additional grammatical elements.

Yoder suggests a similar course of action when the child’s pronunciation is incorrect, a perfectly normal occurrence when kids are first starting to talk. “It’s probably helpful, if the child is way off in their pronunciation, to acknowledge that what they’ve said is right in terms of meaning and then say it as an adult would say it.”

By focusing on what babies perceive and understand, parents can assess their children’s progress and avoid pressuring them to produce words before they are ready. Frequent interaction is the best way to nurture a child’s language development. Indeed, at 26 months, Rachel is not only a chatterbox but seems to understand nearly everything we say. How fortunate. Was it really worth fretting over that first word?

Eric Olive is a father and freelance writer.


Keep track of your child’s journey through the language maze. Basic stages:

4 to 8 months: Babies often coo and gurgle, progressing to babbling around 6 months of age. By 8 months, babies can remember single words.

9 to 12 months: Babies learn to pick out individual words in the speech stream that is everyday language. By 12 months, babies often understand up to 50 individual words. They also learn how to make gestures to communicate certain basic needs such as hunger or thirst.

12 to 18 months: Many children utter their first word, and some begin to use two-word phrases; comprehension increases considerably with some children understanding 150 words or more.

18 to 24 months: Children’s active vocabulary expands considerably. Parents often stop counting words at this point because they can’t keep up. Additionally, most toddlers produce and understand simple phrases such as “more juice.” They also understand long phrases, some sentences and even basic grammatical concepts such as the preposition “with” or “ing” for an action occurring in the present. It is at this age that kids say some of the cutest things. After a trip to the Dairy Queen, when Rachel was 21 months, she waved and said “Bye-bye, ice cream house.”

24 to 36 months: Toddlers begin to master grammar and may learn as many as four to six words per day. They make mistakes and are still fine tuning the categories.

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