Speech and Language

Helping Your Child Develop Speech and Language

[Adapted from Med-El “What about learning speech and language with a CI?”]

Hearing children acquire speech and language through interacting with their caregivers in the home environment. Speech is not ‘taught’ but develops over time by hearing the same words said over and over again in situations where the meaning of the words is obvious. If you say “let’s shut the door” each time you shut the door, in time, your child will associate these words with the action.

Even though hearing children hear all speech sounds from birth onwards, it still takes 2-4 years for them to be able to understand and talk in sentences. This means that it will take a child with a  hearing aid or cochlear implant will take at least as long to do this. Be patient and don’t expect your child to suddenly say words.  Support your child’s speech and language development in these ways:

  • Talk to your child at every opportunity (during meals, dressing, toileting and play).
  • Speak to your child in exactly the same way you would speak to a normally hearing child (slightly more slowly and clearly than you would with most adults).
  • If you notice and talk about what your child is focused on, your child is more likely to understand what your words mean.
  • Try to involve your child in household tasks such as putting dirty laundry into the machine or folding and putting away clean clothes.
  • Keep your child busy! When you do things together you will both have things to say!
  • Children learn to talk by practicing talking. So reward your child’s attempts to talk by looking at them and showing you are listening.
  • Early on, it is useful and encouraging to the child when you imitate his or her vocalizations. Later, you can add a word to what he has said (if the child says “ball”, you say, “green ball” or “big ball”).
  • Always try to understand what your child means and answer appropriately. If you cannot understand just say, “I’m sorry, I didn’t get that.” (Don’t say: “Can you say it again more clearly” because this puts unnecessary pressure and blame on the child.)
  • Give your child time to think about what you have said. Pause and wait a few seconds before saying something else. Your child will speak more often when given this extra time to think and process. This also provides natural breaks for “turn-taking” in conversation, an important habit that develops early on.
  • Put your child’s incomplete utterances into simple phrases. For example, if your child points at dog and says, “Look! Oggy.”You can respond with, “Yes, there’s a dog, he’s saying ‘Woof! Woof!’”
  • Try to do some musical activities each day such as action songs and rhymes. Musical activities encourage your child to listen more carefully, vocalize more fluently, pay attention, and imitate actions and sounds.
  • Repeat the same songs, rhymes, and stories over and over again. The more your child hears this, the more likely she is to actually learn the words and attach the right meaning to them.