How does language develop?
From the very earliest age, children are learning to communicate. A new born child will listen intently to their mother’s voice, and few parents could fail to hear a child’s cry and wonder just what exactly it is they want! Children are born with the ability to express just how keenly they need their particular needs met (and for that you can read: they will scream louder and harder until they get what they want!).
A child’s cry is really their first expressive speech, where they are able to use different tones and sounds to indicate hunger, discomfort or other needs.
Even very young babies enjoy trying to copy their parents facial expressions and once they reach around 3 months old, most babies will take great pleasure in simple games such as peek a boo. As they grow, babies will increasingly babble and gurgle. Slowly, these sounds will become more refined and clear and eventually become simple words, phrases and sentences. Somewhere between the ages of 11 – 14 months, most children will say their first word. We won’t judge you whether that word is Muma or “Peppa” – we have seen it all!
Positive interaction with adults and older children is key to language development. Young children need to hear the to and fro of conversation, with many studies showing that observing, and being included in, animated, motivated conversations as being optimal for language development. Responsiveness is very important here – overhearing language on media such as TV and ipads does NOT help language acquisition or speech.
From language comes literacy, which is one of the specific areas of the Early Years Foundation Stage, one of the most popular curricula in the UAE.
Books are a wonderful tool to promote language learning and regular reading from an early age has been shown to increase vocabulary, language complexity, comprehension and thinking skills. Again, a child’s interaction with a story or book is key here. Asking questions to encourage comprehension and a wide variation in styles and topics all help to keep children learning and interested.
Language and Literacy - Challenges and Special Needs
Parents can monitor their child’s language and communication milestones in many ways. By using online resources and books (click here for the EYFS Development Matters document, which sets out clear milestones for children age 0-5 years) and by discussing your child’s development with professionals such as your Paediatrician and Early Years workers. Should a delay or issue be suspected, early intervention is incredibly important. Language underpins so many other aspects of development (such as the forming of relationships) that catching any problems early will really support your child in every possible way.
There are several common issues and disorders which can impact upon communication. The most frequently diagnosed of these are:
Whatever the issue, seeking early professional help is key to enabling your child to develop to the full extent of their own abilities.
Bilingual (and more!)
With a large proportion of children in the UAE coming from bilingual families, or learning English as a second language, it is easy to see why many parents may see this as both a challenge and an advantage to their child. The good news is that bilingual children have been shown to have many distinct advantages – not least improved cognitive development. Whilst some minor confusion may occur as children learn to separate and order their languages, in the long run bilingualism is hugely advantageous.
The Role of a Good Nursery in Language and Literacy Development
A good nursery will prioritise communication and language development in your child and partner with you to identify your child’s strengths and identify any areas of concern. Free flow of information between you and the nursery as well as regular progress reports (where your child’s progress is compared to age appropriate milestones) are vital.
Language acquisition should be at the core of each and every day your child attends nursery, with activities planned to playfully encourage speech, vocabulary, grammar and a love of books.
This type of learning does not need to be structured or formal, but can be incorporated in many every day activities. Even the sharing of meal times in nursery is a great way for your child to learn to communicate and interact cooperatively.
When viewing a prospective nursery, look for staff who are naturally (and warmly) responsive to children, who make eye contact, who gently question children and who speak in an age appropriate but grammatically correct manner.
Parents should be wary of nurseries which place too great an emphasis on the early use of phonics schemes (for e.g. Jolly Phonics, Letterland). Many studies have shown that the optimal time for such learning is age 4 plus - any earlier and children can find phonics confusing and overwhelming.
The best way for your child to learn to be an excellent communicator is for them to see good communication modelled in all of the adults around them.
Try to develop a friendly relationship with your child’s Nursery Teacher and chat about their day and progress whenever you can. Reinforce your child’s learning by reading similar/topic related books at home and discussing any topic related learning. A partnership between home and nursery can go a long way to creating excellent communicators.