Episode 5 - Speech and Language

Early Years Podcast Episode 5

In our latest episode, Dawn and Fay give you 5 tips to help encourage your child’s speech and language. Hear about sound swaps, extending language, and the serve and return technique.

Podcast Transcript

Fay – Welcome to episode five of the Bright Horizon's Early Years podcast. My name is Fay, and today I'm joined by Dawn, who's one of our Early Childhood Specialists. Dawn's role also focuses on providing support for children with special educational needs and disabilities. Hi, Dawn, welcome to the podcast.

Dawn – Hi, Fay. Thank you for having me.

Fay – And thank you for coming along. Dawn is going to speak to us about early speech, language and communication. We've got five tips that we're going to go straight into to help you to support your child's learning at home. But just before we dive in, what's one thing that parents should know about early speech and language?


Dawn – So your baby's going to communicate with you right from the beginning. Their cries make you know that they're hungry or they're uncomfortable, and they smile and they look at you, and they start to understand simple words that you're saying to them. And then they start to babble, which is what we all love to see as parents and hear as parents; our babies babbling. And around 12 to 18 months, your child's going to start to say their first words.

And then over the time as they grow into toddlers, they're going to build up that first hundred words and they're going to start to use them individually. And they do that by listening to you and then begin to put these words together.


Fay – Yes, and I think another important thing to note is that parents shouldn't worry about how many different words their child knows. So, the number isn't important at this stage. It's about the fact that your child is listening to you and understanding, which in turn will lead to speech. So, let's go straight into the tips now. Number one…


Dawn – Okay, so the first one is attention, looking and listening. These are going to let your child develop this two-way interaction that we need, and we call this reciprocal interaction. As parents, you do this very often without even realising it, to be honest. For example, if you go back to when your child was a baby and they cooed at you, you would smile at them or you'd make a cooing sound back. In nursery, we call this ‘Serve and Return’.

Fay – Serve and Return, it sounds like a sporting term, almost! [Laughs]

Dawn – eah, it does indeed. But if you think about it in that way, your child is serving you some language, some interaction, and you're returning that by smiling at them or copying what they're saying or generally showing them that you're interested.

Fay – Absolutely, yeah. So that tip really is about making sure that your child feels appreciated and heard when they're speaking to you. So, what have we got next?


Dawn – So, along with that serve and return, we need to remember that your child will often have to hear a word or phrase several times before they can start to use it themselves. So some children often, you’ll find them repeating exactly what you’ve said. And it's not necessarily… they don’t necessarily understand the meaning of the word yet, they're just hearing it and repeating it back to you. So we can help children to understand the meaning of the word by using it when it occurs in reality or in play.

So, for example, if the child has blocks and they're banging them together, you can say ‘banging bricks’. If you're outside, you could say ‘jumping in puddles’. So whatever you're doing with your child, just keep this communication going in order to develop their understanding of the language that's being used.


Fay – Ah so it's kind of like narrating what you're doing at the time you’re doing it.

Dawn – eah, absolutely, and narrating what the child's doing as well is really important. So if your child's playing with a car, for example, and they're playing with it, you can say ‘car’. And what's also important here is extending that language. So if your child's playing with the car, you can say ‘blue car’ or ‘small car’ or ‘yellow car’, things like that, just to give the child more examples of vocabulary and things that they can build up and then they'll start to use those words.

Fay – So obviously with children talking about what they're playing with, often you hear them say things incorrectly, or with the words swapped around the wrong way. So they'll say ‘tat’ instead of ‘cat’ for example. I mean, does that matter at that early stage? How important is it?


Dawn – No, it doesn't. I think all children will have this sounds swaps as part of their language development, and that's fine. It's an age-appropriate thing for children, they develop and they lose this as they go on. But what is really important is that we model, to our children, the right words. So when they're saying ‘tat’ instead of ‘cat’, we model back to them: ‘cat’.

What we're not doing is asking them to repeat that word to us, we’re not putting any pressure on them. We're just modelling and giving them the example of how the word should be said. And that's something, again, that we do daily in nursery. If a child says a word with that sound swapping, we will make sure that we repeat it back so that they understand the right words to say.

I think one of the real common ones is things like ‘nana’. Often children will say ‘nana’. So it's really important that we acknowledge, ‘yes, it's a banana,’ when we're talking to our children.


Fay – Yeah, and I guess sound swaps happen a lot with newer words as well. Like as adults, we might not grasp the pronunciation of a new word straightaway, say if we're learning a new language. And to children, all the words are new.

Dawn – And actually Fay, you've made a really good point there about home language. So if English isn't your first language, it's really important that you talk to your child in your home language. Everything that we've said here about them learning words and gaining that vocabulary, they're going to get it through their home language, and then when they're in nursery, they'll hear the English versions of the word, and then they'll start to pick them up.


Fay – Yeah, and then obviously, that can help children over time learn both languages at once.

Dawn – Oh, yes, absolutely. And to be bilingual is a real skill and a real advantage nowadays, to be bilingual.

Fay – Yeah, absolutely.

Dawn – I think really, to finish off, would just be to say that if you are still worried about your child's development, if you’re trying these things and your child… you don't think your child's language is where it should be, then this is a time that you should speak to either your health visitor, or go to your nursery and speak to the key worker in the nursery and explain to them what your concerns are. And they may have some additional tips that they can help you with; things to develop the language at home.

But generally, as you can see, it’s a process, isn't it? Learning a language, and it's not going to happen overnight. But these children, like we said at the beginning, they start as babies that babble and they get to toddlers that chatter away to us, and that’s a really exciting part of their development.


Fay – It absolutely is a journey, yes. So, Dawn, thank you for coming along to the episode today.

Dawn – You're very welcome, Fay. And can I just sum up again by just saying that all children are going to develop differently, but you are your child's first and most important teacher. And what you do together can really help your child.

Fay – Definitely. And to those of you listening at home, thank you so much for joining us. We look forward to seeing you on the next one.