What are some activities and games you can do with your child to support their speech and language development? Below are some ideas, by EB Learning Specialist Camille Trou.
To begin with, here is a typical chronological speech and language development of a bilingual child:
About 18 months:
- The child shows disagreement by a head movement.
- The child uses a « word sentence »
- The child can understand about 200 words (shared in two languages)
- Juxtaposition of 2 words (the bilingual child will eventually put together 2 words from his 2 languages)
- Explosion of vocabulary
- The child understands longer sentences such as Subject + Verb + Complement
- Can produce 3-element sentences
- Can conjugate verbs with future and past tenses
- Use of the negative form
Between 4 and 6 year old:
- Syntactic comprehension gets neater
- Sentences are now longer with several expansions
- The child can respect feminine/masculine forms and singular/plural forms in context
- Can correctly use possessive pronouns
From 6 year old:
- The child uses the passive form
- They can think about his/her own language (pay attention to tenses, grammatical rules)
- Lexical skills are more precise and specialized. Starts to understand humor and metaphors
Speech and language components
Speech and language can be divided into several categories:
- The receptive skill, which means the ability to understand the verbal language AND the non-verbal language (such as gesture, mimicry)
- The expressive skill, which means the ability to express to someone else some information. In this skill, we can find 3 sub-skills: articulation, vocabulary, grammar.
- The pragmatic skill, which is the ability to understand verbal and non-verbal situations and to interact with others (visual contact, waiting his turn to speak, etc.)
Techniques to encourage speech and language
These techniques can be used during playtime with your child.
- Use short sentences with known vocabulary: first do Subject + Conjugate Verb and then Subject + conjugate verb + 1 complement
- Repeat, repeat and repeat again and often those “sentences models” in a variety of contexts
Initiate the sentence
- It allows you to give your child the correct sentence.
- It allows you to introduce new vocabulary. Ex: « Look! The dog is ... »
Initiate first syllable (or letters)
- It helps when your child does not remember the word to use.
- Ex: « At the playground, you like to sl...»
Give them options
- It gives your child the impression that they are the one who « choose » what they says.
- It allows the adult to lengthen little by little
- Ex: « Would you like yogurt or fruit? » / « Would you like fruit or yogurt? »
- It allows you to correct your child’s mistakes WITHOUT making him repeat
- Ex: « The car are red » à « Yes, you are right! The car IS red! »
- It allows you to complete and add precision to your child sentences.
- Ex: « The girl runs» to « The little girl runs fast » or « the little blond girl runs » or « the little girl with a blue skirt runs very fast » etc.)
The parallel game
- The child chooses the game and they are the ones leading it.
- The adult sits next to the child and comments on what the child is doing.
- Very good time to use the « you » pronoun.
The guided game
- The adult chooses the game and plays with the child.
- The adult suggests the actions to do and the « model sentences ».
- Very good time to introduce new vocabulary, new sentences and to suggest to the child different ways to play.
How to use « me » and « I » - « you »
When a child grows up, he/she soon understands that he/she is a unique person. Using pronouns such as « I » or « me » is a good indicator of this skill and a very important step in his/her development.
- Use your daily routine to implement those pronouns : during meal time « One time you, one time me »/ « I start with you, and then me » - during bath time « you wash yourself, and then I wash you » - using ball games « I throw the ball and then you catch the ball. Your turn now, throw the ball » etc.
- Parents’ language: speak about yourself using « I » instead of « Mama » or « Dada » and speak about your child using « you »: instead of his name.
- Use « I » and describe your daily routine activities (ex: « I cut the carrots and then I put some water in a pan. Now, I cook the soup. »
- Mirror game: face a mirror with your child and ask small questions such as « It’s my nose, where is your nose? » etc.
Develop visual perception
Having a good visual perception helps to develop vocabulary and to organize words by similarities and differences.
- Sorting games: sorting by size, by categories (animals, vegetables, furniture, clothes etc.). During sorting games, make sure to speak about similarities and differences (ex: « I put together all the green objects – I put all the forest animals together, etc.)
- Lotto games: don’t forget to name each one of the cards to reinforce vocabulary.
- Memory games: comment on each one of your actions to create language models (ex: I return the cat card and now I will choose this card. This is a dog, it’s not the same. Your turn! ».
Develop spatial and time skills
Mastering time and space is very important to develop language skills. When we speak, we put words in a specific order, one after another. Each word has a beginning, a middle and an end.
In our sentences, actions have a chronological order and verbs are conjugated in past tense, present or future.
- Go to the playground! Gross motor activities are a good way to introduce verbs.
- Hide and seek
- Hidden object games: hide a doll or small object in a room and find it with your child. Ask questions aloud in the meantime: « Where is the doll? The doll is under the table? No, the doll is not under the table. Maybe in the box?...»
- Pretend games: this is a good way to use spatial vocabulary (« I will put fruit in a pan » etc.)
- « I move you, you move me » game: the adult says to the child « I ask you to go under the table ». When the child is done, this is his turn to ask a question.
- Family history: don’t hesitate to share with your child his own history and yours. (his birth, things you did when he was a baby, things you did when you were a child, etc.)
- « Family routine »: tell your child what you did today and what you are planning to do tomorrow
- « Get dressed routine »: First I put my underwear, then I put on my pants, etc.
- Day and night lotto – speak about day and night differences
- Games about seasons (memory, lotto)
- Several images story: put all the images in the correct and then tell the story.
Develop auditory awareness
This skill is very important to differentiate all the sounds of the language.
- Lotto with sounds (city sounds, animals sounds, house sounds, etc.)
- Tambourine game: reproduce the rhythm heard with the tambourine! No visual support!
- « Find the correct object in the house»: put several objects « on» (hair-dryer, vacuum, phone, washing-machine etc.) and ask your child to find what object is « on ».
Develop comprehension and vocabulary
- « Be the guide » game: the adult does a mime and the child has to reproduce it first and then name it. Alternate roles.
- « Jack has said »: start with a simple action and get it harder little by little. (ex: Jack has said put your tongue out!»
- « If game »: « If you are a girl, stand up», etc.
- Read books: don’t hesitate to read the same books often (repetition is your best ally) and to ask questions while reading.
- « Explorer game »: with a pocket lamp, point to several objects in your house and say « With my explorer eyes, I see a... » or ask questions « What is this? » Alternate the one who has the pocket lamp.
- « Mystery bag »: put several objects in a small bag and by touching it, try to find what it is. You will have to speak about your sensations: « it’s cold, it’s sharp at the end, it might be a fork?».
- « The learner painter walk»: put some colorful circles on the ground and ask your child to « jump on blue circles».
- Filling activities: use boxes of different sizes and speak about your experiences: « it’s too many, it is not filling up; that bucket is too small/there is too much water»
- « Similarity and difference boxes »: give 2 boxes to your child and ask her to put each object/image in the appropriate box. For each object, ask why she made that choice.
- Touching lotto
- «Wrong animal» game: among farm animals, put a penguin and ask your child which animal does not fit with the others and why.
Develop memory skills
- Memory games
- « Kim game »: put 3 objects in front of your child and ask him to closely watch it. Then the child closes his eyes and you remove one object. The child has to find which one of them has disappeared. To make it even harder, you can ask him which one disappeared and in which order the objects were put.
- Nursery rhymes, songs.
Don’t panic! Phonological skills need time to adjust. A child has until 51⁄2 years to master his/her articulation.
Funny faces games
- make funny faces in front of a mirror. Make sure to use the tongue, the cheeks, the lips separately.
- Funny faces with your tongue
- Stick out tongue
- Touch your nose with your tongue
- Touch your chin with your tongue
- Smack your tongue
Funny faces with your cheeks
- Puff out cheeks
- Puff out one cheek
- Puff out the cheeks alternatively
- Dig the cheeks
Funny faces with your lips
- Make a kiss gesture
- Make a smile gesture
- Alternate kiss and smile gesture
- Make a car sound (bbbrr)
If your child does not correctly pronounce some sounds, do not ask for repetition, but gently offer the correct pronunciation as corrective feedback.