How to help speech and language

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If your child is late to talk, their speech is not understandable to strangers by the time they are three years of age, stuttering develops, or language development seems to get stalled, there are several ways you can help.

Key points

  • There are many ways parents can help their child improve their speech and language development by seeking professional help, and completing activities at home.

If your child is late to talk, their speech is not understandable to strangers by the time they are three years of age, stuttering develops, or language development seems to get stalled, there are several ways you can help.

Arrange for a speech and language assessment. These are conducted by registered professionals known as Speech and Language Pathologists. As part of the assessment, ask the therapist to give you concrete tasks and games you can play with your child to improve the aspects of language that are lagging. It is important for you to do this at the earliest possible moment. In many jurisdictions, the demand for these types of services is greater than the supply and so waiting lists are not uncommon.

You can find out more about speech and language assessments and learn how to arrange an appointment with a Speech and Language Pathologist through local community health clinics, Early Years Centres, a Preschool Speech and Language Service if it exists in your area, your paediatrician, a local children’s hospital or hospital with a paediatric department, your local school board, or by arranging a private assessment. You can contact your provincial or state organization of Speech and Language Pathologists to obtain the names of some professionals practicing in your area.

Do not rely on your child’s school to solve a speech or language problem. Very often, schools are not equipped to address these issues or, if special programs exist, they exist only to address speech problems such as enunciation.

It is important for parents to understand exactly what type or types of language problems their child may have in order to make sure that they get the right kind of therapy.

What parents can do to help

There are many activities you can do with your child in the home that will help language and reading skills develop.

Read to your child every day, even after they know how to read themselves. Read in an interactive manner by asking questions about what you have read. For example:

  • "What’s the dog doing in the picture?"
  • "What happened then?"
  • "What happened next?"
  • "Tell me the story from the pictures."

Talk about the things you see on family outings; label objects; read signs.

Review the events of the day at bedtime; talk about what will happen tomorrow. This helps with sequencing events, provides opportunities for modeling appropriate vocabulary and grammar, and increases vocabulary.

To help build your child’s vocabulary

  • Make a personal picture dictionary using magazine photos, clip art, and catalogue pictures.
  • Read picture dictionaries with your child.
  • Label objects in the home.
  • Play "I Spy."
  • Sort objects or pictures of objects into categories.

To improve your child’s grammar

  • Paste pictures of people engaging in actions on cards and have child describe what is happening (e.g., the man is running, the children are hopping), or match pictures to sentences.
  • other toys.
  • Sing familiar songs, slowly. Once you have sung the song several times, occasionally pause so your child can provide the next word by themselves.

To help your child learn grammar, sequencing, and story organization

  • Have your child provide a topic or characters so that you can make up a story for them. As your child gets older, engage your child more in the creative process with questions such as, “What’s the story about?” or “Who is it about?”
  • Look at family photo albums and discuss who is in the pictures and what the pictures are about.
  • Make books about family outings: take photos, arrange them in sequence, and write the story underneath each photo.

To help your child learn about figurative language and inferences

  • Teach figurative language directly. For example, "I’m having a ball" means "I’m having fun."
  • Help your child learn to make inferences by playing "Guess the Object" games. Make up three clues, then have child guess the object. For example, "What is clear, falls from the sky, and is cold?" Teach your child how to make up clues.
  • Language workbooks can be used to reinforce new terminology and grammar with kindergarten-aged and older children. Larger bookstores often carry several types of workbooks. When working with preschool or younger children, always teach new terms or concepts with real objects to help them understand.
Last updated: October 31st 2009