5 Truths About Learning To Talk

5 Truths About Learning To Talk

Are you worried that your child isn't talking enough?



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Communicating with little people can be extremely challenging. Your child might be reluctant to use words, may be tricky to understand or may be just fine-tuning their ability to ignore instructions.  Whatever the situation, here are 5 truths for how to engage and communicate more effectively with the little people in your life:

Talking Truth 1:  Don’t ask questions 

For young children at the first word stage, overuse of questions such as “Who’s that?” does not provide particularly useful or functional ‘first words or phrases’. Try interpreting more than questioning.  For example, “I heard a bird” instead of “What’s that?” provides a much better language model.

It seems like a counterproductive point, however, to a child, being asked questions actually implies ‘testing’ whereas making comments implies interest. By balancing our questions with comments, we create more opportunities for children to take a turn in the conversation. “Studies have shown that the more children are involved in back-and-forth interactions with their caregivers, the more activity they have in the part of the brain responsible for language production and processing.”  [The power of turn taking: how back and forth interactions help children learn language]

Talking Truth 2:  Don’t be attentive

If we constantly pre-empt our child’s needs and wants, we do not create opportunities for them to communicate. ‘Sabotage’ is a language strategy that involves making a mistake on purpose to give a child a chance to take a turn in the conversation. For example, give an empty cup for a drink or say only the first part of a phrase then wait for your child to finish it “Ready, set…    (go!)”  For children at the first word stage, songs provide a perfect platform for allowing your child to take a turn “Humpty Dumpty sat on the wall, Humpty Dumpty had a great….WAIT…    (fall!)”  

The biggest challenge for parents is not only waiting but also realising that even a look, a wiggle, a smile or a sound is your child taking a turn. Communication is verbal and non-verbal! Strangely, being an attentive parent can actually be counterproductive to a child’s language learning.

Talking Truth 3:  Avoid being interesting 

Children are ego-centric. It seems like common sense but it’s important to let the child LEAD the interaction. It’s all about something called ‘cognitive resourcing’. If a child has to use all their ‘cognitive resourcing’ or ‘brain power’ to maintain attention on what the adult is discusssing, then less brain capacity is available for the topic of conversation. So, in a nutshell, if they are enjoying banging on a drum, don’t bring over a truck! The best way to bring a conversation to a grinding halt is to talk about something a child is NOT interested in.  

Talking Truth 4:  Try not to ‘supervise’

Well okay, we take that back! Please supervise your children. But better yet, rather than standing by supervising and being a spectator, join in and be a player! The number one way to get a young child to open up and “have a chat” is to get down to their level and PLAY! Joining in and playing starts the flow of conversation as it provides an engaging and shared context to build on. Plus, if you listen to your toddler during playtime, they may be more inclined to listen to you when it’s your turn to be boss.  One can only hope … 

Talking Truth 5:   Never make ‘NO’ an option

“Do you want to put on your shoes?”  No.  “Would you like some broccoli?” No. Sound familiar? 

A closed question is one that can be answered with a one word response, usually a yes or no, whereas an open-ended questions (e.g., wh questions) can have lots of different responses that usually require a longer response. For younger children, offering a choice allows a child to use more words than just yes or no. For example, “Would you like big swings or little swings?” or “Would you like a cuddle or a high five?” Choice questions provide a safe bridge between closed and open questioning by allowing the child to give a one or two word response matching their expressive language abilities.

WARNING:  Make sure you are happy with both options in the choice before you offer it!

We hope this blog post sheds some light on some simple truths of language learning. It is not so much what you say but how you say it that makes all the difference.  

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Little Birdie Books

If you are keen to support your child’s communication development as they move from ‘learning to talk’ to ‘talking to learn’, we have created themed, interactive book boxes for families with children aged 3-6 years. Check out our shop page at https://littlebirdiebooks.com.au  or follow us on Instagram https://www.instagram.com/littlebirdiebooks/ or Facebook https://www.facebook.com/littlebirdiebooks/.  

Little Birdie Books also collaborates with Childcares, Kindergartens and Pre-schools, so feel free to email us at hello@littlebirdiebooks.com.au

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  1. Oana Manole

    This is incredibly helpful. As an example we ask our son to wear shoes when we leave the house and he says ‘no’, but we do have 2 pairs of sandals for him (1 green and 1 blue) and now we can continue to learn colours as this will be his choice ?. Thank you for the 5 truths.

    • Janice

      Hi! Janice here from Little Birdie Books. Thanks for your comment. We’re so glad you found the 5 truths to be helpful!


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