A toddler’s brain synapses are amazingly complex allowing for a child to have an explosion of language. It is possible your child may be beginning this language explosion right now or that their sensitive period for language acquisition is still on the horizon. Some children like to try everything out loud, while others learn more quietly. Even if you aren’t hearing many words, your child is likely learning a great deal about communication these days.
The three parts of language acquisition
There are times when you will want to introduce new vocabulary in a direct way. In these times it is really helpful to know that there are three stages to language acquisition.
- First, you say the word while showing your child what the word means.
- Second, your child can point to the thing, or do the action when you supply the word.
- Third, your child can say the word themselves when you point to the thing, or they can use the word correctly themselves.
When introducing new vocabulary directly, stay with step one for a long time. Use the new word over and over at first. You can have fun with this! For example, if I’m introducing the word “plate” I might take a real or toy plate, after I’ve introduced the word many times, and place it around the house for them to find. Everytime the plate is found I’ll pick it up and say “plate!”
When you get the sense that your child knows the word, you can give your child the chance to show you. Sit near the plate and say “plate!” Wait for several seconds to see if the child will motion toward it in some way. If they don’t, go ahead and show them! If they do, you might invite them to “Put the plate on your head,” or “Bring me the plate.” or other suggestions that give your little one a chance to show you they know the item you are talking about. Only use commands that your child knows!
Once they are consistently showing you the plate, if they are getting verbal, you might invite them to say the word “plate.” A gentle, helpful way of doing this is to pick up the plate and just look at it questioningly. You might even say “This is a…” and give some space as if you are thinking. After a nice long pause, if they don’t supply the word or if they supply the wrong word, simply say “plate.”
Keep it simple
Language acquisition is not a race, and your child is learning so much outside of your lessons! They are absorbing words, inflection, gestures, humor and so much more just in the realm of communication. These little lessons are a small part of helping them acquire language. They can, and SHOULD, be fun for parents and children. Keeping this in mind, make sure to only work on only a few words at a time in this way. If you are getting resistance, stop and try another time!
This is not a test
It is really important to not “quiz” or “drill” your child. Every child learns differently, and the most organic way for your child to learn is through conversation, reading, singing and narration. Only do these lessons if they are fun for both of you. If we turn these lessons into a test we can inadvertently discourage a child, possibly inhibiting their ability to learn with joy later.
When your child is making sounds, and using gestures they are almost always trying to tell you something - even if it seems like nonsense to you! You won’t always be able to figure out what they are trying to say, but trying to understand and responding to them, is vital. Try saying, “I”m sorry. I know you want to tell me something, but I don’t understand right now.” You can invite them to tell you a different way.
Make it easier for your child
Adults are often surprised to hear preschool Montessori students correctly identify a “rectangular prism” or an “ellipse.” This is not because these children have more math or language smarts than other children. It isn’t even a huge educational mystery. It is simply that the adults around them have always used the correct language for these things.
Very small children have more complex brains for learning language than we do! If we use correct words for things, and expose them to lots of different things, most will learn the names of those things as easily as breathing. If we use “baby” words for things we give our children extra work! If we baby talk to them they have to first learn the word you’ve supplied them, then unlearn it later and learn the correct word. Using a different cadence, or pitch is natural and perhaps even helpful. But keep your words clear and correct if you want your child to learn your language easily.
This post was written by Olynda Smith, AMS Certified Montessori Primary teacher.