Speech and language development

6min read

Learning to talk is an incredible journey. In just a relatively short period of time, children progress from being unable to understand or say anything, to being able to have long conversations, understand complicated stories and learn new and quite tricky things at school. Language is such a crucial skill – for learning, socialising and making friends – almost everything relies on understanding or talking!

Key Points:

  • Encourage your child with their language and speech by having conversations, sharing stories and learning through play
  • Use descriptive language and short sentences when talking with your child, such as "look at the white fluffy dog walking on the street"
  • There is plenty of support available if you are worried about your child's speech and language development and you can speak to your Health Visitor or I CAN for advice

Just like many skills that children need as they grow and develop, there are typical milestones for learning to talk. It’s fascinating to see the rate and way that children’s language progresses. But learning to talk is also one of the most complex foundation skills that children learn. Many children do this easily and put the building blocks together. But some children find this developmental skill tricky and need a little more help.

There are lots of things that parents can do at home to help their child's developing language skills. Children, particularly in the early years, learn best through play in a natural and familiar environment. This doesn't mean we expect parents to sit down each day and 'teach' their children through a set of specific language learning games and activities. Language forms such an important part of everyday life so what better a place to learn, than as you take a walk with your child, bathe your child or simply sit down and eat lunch together. All these routines provide a great platform for developing language!

Thinking about how we interact and talk to children can give us lots of ideas for enhancing natural skills in supporting speech and language development. Take some of these strategies for example:

  • Get the child's full attention first. Get down to their level and engage their attention before speaking or asking a question – say their name to encourage them to stop and listen.
  • Use simple, repetitive language. Keep sentences short as you describe what is happening. E.g. “We’re driving in the car” or “Wow, you’re building a tower”
  • Give the child time to respond. Children often need time to put their thoughts together before answering, so give them longer to respond than you would with an adult.
  • Help them to learn words by giving them choices. Offer two things to choose from whilst giving them the word, for example “do you want milk, or juice?” as you hold them up in front of them. Questions like these are better than ones that only require a yes/no response, like “do you want juice?”

Of course, sometimes children struggle with learning to talk. Getting help early on if you are worried about your child’s communication skills is really important and most NHS speech and language therapy services will accept direct referrals from parents or carers. Speech and language therapists are able to assess children of all ages and offer support to children in different ways, often at home or in their early years or educational setting. 

Children will rely on their communication skills all through their life. Focussing on supporting these skills as part of everything you do will help to equip them with the skills they need, and no doubt you’ll have lots of fun too.

Further resources 

You can find strategies in I CAN's Early Language Development factsheet. If you’re wondering how your child’s language skills are developing, this handy Progress Checker will give you an idea. If you’re worried about your child, or would just like some ideas about how to help your child with their language development, get in touch with I CAN on 020 7843 2544 to speak to a speech and language therapist. 

I CAN is the leading charity for children and young people’s speech, language and communication.  We provide effective, practical evidence-based solutions that change the lives of children and young people with communication difficulties and support all children’s communication development.