Modeling Natural Language Expansions
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Modeling Natural Language Expansions

  • PDF

The day your child say their first word is one we never forget. It's doesn't get more exciting than that!

As babies grow and develop into toddlers, they gradually start saying more single words. Eventually, when a child turns two years old, they should begin following the "two" rule. This is a simple concept that means a two year old child should begin saying two word phrases, like "I want" or "give me."

Every child is unique, and they all follow their own developmental milestones. For some children, they meet this crucial milestone a little before their 2nd birthday; for other children, two word phrases come slightly later. This lesson will cover various ways in which you can help your child produce multi-word utterances. Let’s get started!

The Importance of Talking to Your Child

Children learn language from listening to those around them - namely their parents and caregivers. In other words, a child has to frequently hear language modeling in order to imitate it. That's why it's so important for parents and caregivers to talk consistently to their child.

Here are some various things you can do throughout the day to model good speech and language habits for your child:

1. Narration: Narrate to your child what you are doing throughout your day. This can feel slightly silly, especially if it's just you speaking to your infant at home! But think about it this way: if your child is in a quiet home all day, what words are they hearing? What sound productions are they learning to discriminate? The point is that you are your child’s model for speech! So be sure to consistently describe everday tasks and activites as you are doing them at home.

Here’s an example: “I’m going to get your bottle ready! But first I have to warm it up. Let’s put it in the water. It is so hot!” Babies will begin to hear the words that are associated with actions. In this example, if you are consistently saying these things while preparing their bottle, they will start to associate the word “bottle” with the actual item. Likewise, if you say "water" while turning on their faucet, they'll similarily begin to associate the word with actual water. A child first has to recognize and understand words before they will start to use them appropriately.

2. Read to Your Child: Reading regularly to your child is crucial to their language development. Your child will begin to hear words and associate them with photos in the book. It's a great idea to read true story books with your child, as well as simple infant and toddler books, such as "first words" books. In story books, your child will begin to hear sentences strung together and help them start to understand the format of language. Similarly, simple first word books will help your child learn what words correlate to photos on the page. Take the time to point to the photos, model their names, and describe them to your child.

3. Sing to Your Child: Did you know that music supports language development? Sing nursery rhymes with your child frequently! Not only do children love songs and nursery rhymes, but they will help simultaneously improve their speech and language development.

Modeling Natural Language Expansions

If your child has started saying single words, this is a tremendous accomplishment! But we don't want to stop there. It's important to help children progress from simple, one word utterances to longer two and three word phrases. Here are some simple things you can do to model natural language expansions for your child.

It is very crucial to work on natural language expansions in their natural contexts. Make sure to take advantage of what your child is saying and doing in that exact moment, and use it to model a phrase that is one word longer than what they are giving you. For example, if your child consistently tells you “water” in order to request a drink, you could model, “more water,” or “water please!” Notice we use the word that your child offered and build upon the phrase by adding another word? It's not hard!

You can also model simple two word phrases for your child even if they haven’t given you a single word. Let’s do a few examples together. Pretend you are reading a book with your child about dogs. Point to the photo of the dog on the page and model different things about the dog with two word phrases. You can say something like “brown dog!” or even use an action verb like “dog runs!” It can be anything so get creative! If you notice your child beginning to use longer two word phrases, you can even start to model more complex three word phrases. You should always try to work one step above your child's current skill level.

Is this ‘Baby Talk?’ Will This Really Help Them?”

Many parents and caregivers have been told to use adult-like sentences with their child. On one hand, that is true! It's important to provide appropriate models of the English language that are more complex. However, when it comes to the teaching aspect of language, you want to start simple, modeling the the shorter phrase examples we just reviewed.

The reason is because you don't want to model phrases that are too challenging for your child off the bat. Instead, as mentioned, you want to practice skills and utterances that are just barely above their current level. A child is more likely to start imitating a simple two word phrase than to rattle off a four word sentence. That just doesn’t typically happen in language development. So, we follow the natural progression of language development and meet the child right where they are!

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