Ever wondered if the environment children find themselves in plays a role in their language development? Does speaking more with a child help?
In a culture such as ours where ‘children are to be seen and not heard’, how are children expected to express themselves freely all the time?
A language-rich environment involves using every opportunity to use language, to interact, to share a focus, to talk and to take turns.
When a child’s environment has a lot of interactions, songs, play, stories, reading, non-verbal expressions (such as facial expressions, body language) etc., it helps with the child’s language development.
However, in Ghana children are often expected to play with peers. Most interactions adults have with children revolve around instructions such as telling a child what to do.
Apart from a language-rich environment, helping children develop their language, it also builds a good relationship between the child and the adults or whoever the child interacts with.
It also helps children build their confidence and self-esteem.
Ways to build language-rich environment
· Following child’s lead: Allowing your child to lead means observing what is of interest to your child, waiting to see what your child will do and listening to what your child is trying to say to you.
Observe, wait and listen, are the three key words here and can be abbreviated as OWL.
Following your child’s lead helps your child to focus on activities of interest to them while you focus on commenting on what they are doing.
This creates an opportunity for your child to learn language linked to what they are doing. For example, if interested in playing with a car, you can model words such as “drive” or “stop” with a young child.
You can talk about events such as “Dad’s car is red” to help the child understand different ways of using and expanding on the key word.
· Offering choices: Offering your child choices helps build his or her vocabulary. Modelling language when offering children choices provides them the opportunity to hear and understand language. Model two-word combinations for your children when offering them two choices. For example, “Car or ball”, “Orange or pineapple’’?
· Get down to your child’s level: Communication involves both verbal and non-verbal means. Get down to your child’s level/height when engaging with them.
This offers them the opportunity to see and interpret the nonverbal communication such as your facial expressions.
They also appreciate that you are interested in their activity and it promotes adult-child interaction.
· Comment on what the child does: Commenting on what your child is doing helps in teaching them words around the activities they love. They get the opportunity to hear correctly modelled language.
For instance, during the car activity, the child may learn words such as ‘drive’ ‘stop’, ‘horn’ etc. If you consistently comment on what you and the child are doing, the child benefits from learning new words and thus increasing their vocabulary.
When a child is exposed to lots of language in their early years, they are more likely to have stronger language and literacy skills later in life. Make every opportunity with your child count for now and later!