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When to Worry about Language Development in Your Baby

Updated: Aug 12, 2022

The first thing parents want to know when they talk to me about language and literacy is, when to worry about language development in their baby. I asked Speech Language Pathologist Steve Brim, and Early Childhood Special Educator Tim Ostdahl about this and also asked for their personal tips and tricks to help you develop your child’s language and literacy.

When to Worry about Language Development

Many parents aren’t sure if their child is talking enough, or if they should have better pronunciation. According to Speech Language Pathologist Steve Brim, and Early Childhood Special Educator Tim Ostdahl, here’s what they look for when evaluating children.

By 18 months you baby should know between 5 and 20 words. If you keep a diary to start keeping track this will help put your mind at ease. Focus on the fact they have said it at least once, that means they know the word, know how to say it, and may be choosing not to use it all of the time (that’s okay).

By 2 years old, they should know approximately 200 words. They should be able to put together 2-word sentences.

By 3 years old they are looking for children who can put together 3-word sentences. This means they are in the norms of language development.

Sounds to Master by Age.

By age 3 you child should be able to make the “M, P, H, E, B, and N” sounds. By 4 they should be able to clearly make the “F, T, K, G, Y, and D” sounds. At 5 ”J, CH, and SH” are what they look for.

6 year old’s should be able to make the “L, V, S, and NG” sounds. Finally by 7 they should be able to make the “TH, Z, and R” sounds.  Note that some children learn these sounds sooner and some a little later. This is just what they are generally looking for during an evaluation.

Tips For Building Language and Increase Language Development

Read, Sing, Play, and take every moment when you’re “on the go” to have a fun moment learning language.

Steve Brim, Speech Language Pathologist, highly recommends “pattern books”. These are books with lots of repetition. The more they hear something, the more likely they are to chime in and say the lines. He also recommends singing songs and listening to music, again that repetition will make children more confident they know the words and to speak or sing along. Music motivates kids to imitate sounds and words.

Brim also says that when explaining things to a small child, in the first stages of word and language development, explain things in as few words as possible. If we use too many words to explain things the young toddler will check and stop listening.

For every day vocabulary he says to give kids two options and hold them up. For example, “Do you want the milk, or the orange juice?” If they point, you say, “Oh, you want the orange juice? Here you go!”

If they point and make an “m” sound, say, “Good job! You said milk! You want the milk! Good job! Here you go!” Always praise them for even coming close to the word they are trying to make.

Praise and encouragement goes a long way in language development. Studies show that putting them down or punishing them for saying things incorrectly will only cause a further language delay, they will essentially be afraid to talk.

Be Patient and Give Them Time!

Brim continued to discuss how we affect our children by not giving them the time  to respond. He stated, “Wait for a response.” By waiting for a response you give them time to think and to try to say the word. If we interrupt we don’t give them the opportunity to try to speak. It’s okay if they say things incorrectly just repeat what they said correctly. For instance mom says, “Did you get hurt?” Toddler response, “Es.” Mom replies, “Yes? You did? I’m so sorry. Come here.” This way the child hears the correct pronunciation. Baby talk is not helpful for language development, no matter how cute it is. 

There is No Right Place for Language Development

Finally Brim discussed how easy it is to teach children language no matter where you are. “Grocery stores are a great place to teach children new words. There are so many aisles with so many different categories of items to talk about!” He stated.

Brim suggested taking every car trip to talk about things outside the window, talk about what you’re buying at the store. Start with just introducing the names of things, then move onto adding in different adjectives to describe those items. For instance, “This is an apple…. This is a green apple… this green apple is smooth.” For more ideas on language development on the go Brim recommends the book “Talking Go Everyday Activities” for more ideas.

Tips for Teaching Your Child to Read: Boost Language Development.

Time Ostdahl is not only an Early Childhood Special Educator, but he specializes in Childhood Literacy. Here’s what he recommended when it comes to teaching your child to read.

Above all else “Don’t drill and kill.” He said seriously, “The whole point of teaching our kids to read is so that they enjoy reading.” Instead of worrying about letter recognition and learning which letters make what sounds, the FIRST step to learning to read is looking at a picture and telling the story of what’s happening.

Ostdahl explained, “Yeah it’s great when kids come to kindergarten knowing their letters and sounds, but we don’t expect it… knowing this information does not give them an advantage later on in life.” His point was that the kid that goes into kindergarten knowing how to read may not further his education later on because he never learned to LOVE reading.

On the other hand, the kid who came into kindergarten not knowing anything other the what books he loves went on to love learning and furthered their education.

Memorization is NOT the Answer

Don’t force kids to memorize flashcards, that’s all it is, memorization without true understanding of the concept of reading. If you kid does not enjoy the flashcards, don’t make them do them. It will only kill the joy of learning to read. The most important thing is to READ TO YOUR KIDS.

However, the books need to be CHOSEN BY YOUR KIDS. Let them choose their interests. The school system has changed their ways of forcing students to read specific books. Kids are allowed to pick the books they WANT to read, this is because every child is different and does not have the same interests as their classmates. 

Play games, sing songs, learning how to rhyme before they learn to read is VERY helpful before venturing into reading lessons. Let them CREATE their OWN BOOKS. They can draw pictures and explain what’s happening in the pictures. 

When your child it ready and WANTS to learn to read. Start changing the way you talk about letters. It’s very helpful to say, “How do you spell ‘kuh’?” and allow them the time to answer with “C” or “K”. This way they are making the connections between sounds and spelling those sounds using letters. Allow your children to pick what they want to learn. Have fun figuring out how to spell their favorite (smaller) words.

Talk to your child every day. Let them begin making their own connections between sounds and letters. Ostdahl recommended a series of books called “Bob Books” for early readers.

Finally, he suggested focusing on teaching kids to memorize “sight words”, these are words that if sounded out will not actually sound the way they’re spelled. Here’s printable lists for “sight words” you can start working on, but make them fun. Always make every part of learning to read fun. Everything from learning letters, to sounds, to sight words, to story time. 

“You will really know your child can read when they can read nonsense words.” Tim Ostdahl

Want some ideas on how to help your child learn to read? Check out Jessica’s Videos on our Youtube Channel

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