There’s no denying that the language of young children can be a great source of entertainment for parents. Sometimes it’s their complete honesty and their literal interpretation of the question that tickles our funny bones. Other times it’s the amazingly creative uses of grammar that is so charming. Language acquisition is a developmental process that includes experimentation and trying out different rules as part of the process.
Sometimes what children say may not conform to adult rules, but can be explained and understood when you remember that an incorrect use of grammar is often a sign that they are learning and making progress. Children use forms of language that they never hear adults use, such as, “I goed there before” or “I have two feets.” They learn and use the most common conventional forms first, and then sort out for themselves the exceptions to the rules such as, “I went there before” and “I have two feet.”
Children also need frequent opportunities to use language in everyday situations with good language models. Constant correction of a child’s speech is most often unproductive. It takes encouragement and a willingness to have patience while your child sorts through all the rules. Try these tips for supporting their language development and let me know how they work.
Rephrase and restate. Instead of correcting your child’s speech, respond to what he is trying to communicate by restating or confirming what you heard using the correct usage. For example, use the opportunity to turn, “I had the goodest time at school today,” into “I’m glad you had the best time at school today.”
Read, read, read. Your child probably has a favorite book that she asks you to read to her over and over again. The repetition strengthens neuron connections and reinforces the use of conventional forms of language. Ask your child to participate in the reading of a familiar book by filling in words or chiming in with a refrain that reoccurs throughout the book.
Talk it out. As you and your child enjoy activities together – from cooking in the kitchen to visiting the library – talk about what you are doing. Ask your child questions that require more than a yes or no answer. Take turns describing the things around you. If you are in a park, ask your child to tell you about what he sees, smells or hears.
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