Helping Your Child Expand Their Language

Do I really want to share tips on how to get kids talking more? Like our kids don’t talk enough already, right?  Just kidding. A rich oral language environment that increases oral proficiency is one of the best predictors of early childhood success, in a 1st language or any other.  As a long-time second language teacher, I often find myself using my classroom methods when helping my daughter build her world through language.  Here are some tips:

–  Grade the language and my expectations to her level.  I first teach her “want”, then “I want”, then “I want this”, then “I want (item)”.  At each step I’m expecting more from her and building on what she knows.  If she wants the cereal, she needs to give me that extra word we’ve been practicing or she doesn’t get it.  I’m also challenging her to use “i+1″, a language teacher term for comprehensible input plus a stretch or challenge piece.  Learning really only happens when we challenge ourselves to go beyond what we already know.

–  Make if fun. Lots of games.  We’re always playing and speaking.  This can be just talking while playing games or playing language games like hiding objects behind me and giving them to her when she calls out their name.

–  Make it meaningful.  We talk about stuff and I give her words for what she wants to do.  If she wants to play kitchen, we learn the kitchen words.  If she fell down and got hurt, we talk about that, too.  Words need to be in the correct context for children to understand them at a young age.

–  Surround her with language.  I talk through what we’re doing every time we do it.  I add more and longer descriptions or explanations as she gets better at using the same language herself.

–  Know when silence is best.  Sometimes kids just need to process the language you gave them.  I’ll give her a new word and she will repeat it softly to herself over and over.  That’s time for me to shut my mouth and let her focus before continuing on with our day or activity.

–  Positive feedback. Lots of excitement when she says a new word or pushes her language to the next level.

–  Playing dumb.  This is a very important one that people often neglect.  If she’s pointing, using body language, or using a language other than the one we use between us, I act like I don’t understand until she uses her words in the correct language.  Kids will always take the easiest route.  If a pointed finger and “eh eh eh” get them what they want, they won’t use anything else.

–  Be patient.  “No that’s not a puddle, it’s a water cup.” 🙂  I can try to correct her all I want, when she’s ready she’ll say it the right way. Interestingly enough, they’ve done studies on English language speaking children and irregular verb correction.  They found that forcing your child to repeat a word correctly before the age of 7 (when analytic learning becomes stronger) doesn’t improve outcomes on when they start saying it correctly.  Just another factoid that shows language learning is organic and learners pick up new elements when their interlanguage is ready to handle it.

–  Music, books, and videos.  We supplement a lot with all kinds of media.  This helps expose her to different accents, increases vocabulary exposure and, best of all, music and stories are far easier to remember than just plain language.

What are your tips?  Any other language teachers out there that find themselves using classroom techniques with their kids?

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