Asking young children questions are ways of helping them develop language. For young children who are now learning language and with limited language, questions may not be helpful as they may find it hard to understand and respond.
Children learn to understand language from the way words are used around them. It is, therefore, advisable to use or model comments for children learning language and the ones with language difficulties. Comments provide young children with a good language model that they can learn from and helps remove the pressure of answering questions.
A child may begin to feel like all you do is to test them if you continually ask them questions. This can make children feel anxious and may impact on their self-esteem. In turn, this may affect your interaction with your child. Too many questions also have the potential of depriving your child of other language-learning opportunities you provide them as your focus is mostly on asking questions.
How to comment
• Label things that you both can see. You can look through picture books and label the pictures. You can even take turns with your child to name objects (cup, ball, table) or describe everyday actions (running, eating, sleeping).
• Turn questions into comments. For example, instead of asking “what is this”, rather say, “Look, a car.”
• Expand your child’s language by adding to what he/she says. For example, if your child says “ball”, you can expand. First, say “it’s a ball”, before expanding it to say, “It’s a big ball.” If they should say “big ball”, you can expand it and say, “Big green ball." You can keep adding to what your child says with an extra word.
• Pretending to be confused about a particular word can help your child learn new words. It is also a way of initiating interaction. For example, you can say “that’s a ball” when you are pointing to a car. Wait and see if your child will correct you. If they don’t correct you, you can say “oh! It’s a car, vroom vroom”.
• Your child’s daily routine provides you with good opportunity to comment on what you do. Bath time is a good opportunity to do some commenting. Comment on the body part you are washing each time. For example, “I’m washing your hands.” You can also describe other activities that happen during bath time such as “the floor is wet” or “the tap is not running”.
It is, therefore, advisable to use more comments than questions when talking to young children to help them learn language more easily and without constant pressure.
The Writer is Speech and Language Therapist/Clinical Tutor, University of Ghana. E-mail: