Process of language learning

The process of learning language is complex and all children will pick it up at different rates. Generally, there are some key themes and pieces of advice that are given to help with the development of language for children who are developing typically and for those who are not. These are:

  • Learn language in context
  • Repeat it over and over again for maximum exposure
  • Read books for language enrichment
  • Comment on the world around you and your child so they hear lots of language

The suggestions above are extremely useful and evidence shows that the more we are exposed to language, the more words we will have.

Turn-taking in conversation

There is something however that is even more important than this, and that is the number of turns that your child is taking in the conversation.

Spot the difference between the two conversations below:

Adult: Oh that is a big dog, don’t you think.
Adult: I wonder where it is going.
Adult: Do you like dogs?
Child: Yes, I like little dogs.
Adult: Oh yes I like little dogs, Chihuahua dogs are my favourite, cute little dogs with full, round and expressive eyes!

Now consider this conversation

Adult: WOW! You are never gonna guess what I can see!
Child: What can you see?
Adult: A dog! Can you see it?
Child: No, where is it?
Adult: Look over there
Child: Doggy!
Adult: What does it look like?
Child: small and cute

What is the difference between these two conversations?

In the first one the child heard a lot of language which is great, but only took one conversational turn. In the second, the child had four turns in the conversation.

Why is this important?

Research shows that taking turns in conversation promotes a child’s language development and that listening to an adult monologue e.g. reading to a child without much contribution from them was linked to weaker language skills than the amount of turns they took.

Conversations are important, they wake up the brain and engage a child’s listening and thinking!

The research says that children who took 1163 turns had 4406 vocalisations, compared to children who took 225 turns producing 1024 vocalisations.  Taking turns accelerates language and works on listening, processing of language and understanding.

Build your knowledge with these 7 ideas to develop turntaking.
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Creating more turns, have more conversations!

  • Start a conversation with a WOW statement as above. A WOW statement creates the maximum number of turns with one phrases e.g.

‘I bet you can’t guess what I did yesterday’, ‘I have something special in my bag’, ‘I am going somewhere exciting next week!”

These sorts of statements create an immediate turn for your curious child who will most likely what to know more, so they will ask a question. Keeping the conversation going and creating more turns increases their communication confidence and language development.

  • Link conversations to real life experiences so children have the knowledge to contribute and opportunities to have a meaningful contribution.
  • Always try to create more turns!

Written by Carolyn Fox, Children’s Speech and Language Therapist

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