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Using words and sentences

As a child learns more words, they begin to put them together to make phrases and sentences. These sentences become longer and more complex as the words used by the child develop. Use of language can also be referred to as expressive language.

When a child has difficulty talking they may:

First words and phrases:

  • Slow down when you talk. Leave pauses. This gives your child the chance to process what you said and respond to it.
  • Listen to the sounds and words your child says. Repeat them back.
  • Give your child the words and phrases they need by making comments about what they /you are doing, rather than asking questions.
  • Keep your language simple and repetitive to give your child lots of experience of important words and phrases.
  • Copy what your child says and add a little bit more. If they make a sound, you could copy the noise and say one word. If they say one word you could say it back and add another one.
  • Give your child opportunities to communicate during everyday activities and routines, e.g. when they want something you cold, give them a choice of two – “water or milk? Play with car or train?”
  • It is important to remember that communication is not just words. Where ever you can use body language, facial expression, pointing, gestures, and objects. Make sure your respond to your child when they use these too.

Next steps:

  • Model the correct grammar: Repeat back the sentence using adult grammar. This helps the child learn how the sentence should be said e.g: Child: “At school today the computer breaked”. Adult: “Oh, the computer broke”. Child: “Cut stick”. Adult: “Cutting and sticking”.
  • Expand on what the child says: Add one piece of extra information e.g: Child: “Man tree”. Adult: “The man is climbing up the tree”.
  • Offer a choice: Give the child a choice of what to play with/eat/drink/wear. Adapt to the child’s level of language e.g: Adult: “Jumper or t-shirt?” Adult: “Do you want the red jumper or the yellow jumper?”.
  • Open questions: Avoid questions requiring a one-word answer, such as ‘Are the children playing on the slide?’ Instead ask ‘What is happening in the playground?’ The child can then respond with a sentence such as ‘The children are playing on the slide’.
  • Have 5 minutes of special time each day with your child.
  1. During this time, remove any external distractions e.g. TV. Let the child lead the play.
  2. Let them choose the toy and how they play with it. Copy what your child is doing. This will encourage you to follow their lead and not be too directive.
  3. Keep your language simple. Try and match your child’s language level. For example, if your child is using single words, use mostly single words and some two- word phrases in play. If they are using simple sentences, you use simple sentences too. If your child is not yet using words, try and use single words where possible e.g. ‘car’, ‘go’.
  4. Use the strategies detailed above during this special time.
  • Look at pictures in books, magazines and in newspapers. Take it in turns with the child to say something about the picture.
  • Find objects/pictures of things that go together and discuss how they go together.
  • See if the child can select either an object or a picture after hearing its description. You can give the description in single words, phrases or sentences; for example, a ball can be described as “black, round, bouncy” or “It’s made of rubber and you play sports with it”.
  • Sentence completion: Start a sentence for the child to finish e.g: Adult: “The man is sitting…” Child: “on top of the house”. Increase independence: For older children, repeat back the child’s sentence the way that they have said it and ask them to think of one way they could improve it.
  • Use pictures to encourage story telling by getting your child to put the pictures in the correct order and tell you what is happening.
  • Take photos of your child playing or participating in daily activities. Talk about these and model good sentences.