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Supporting and extending language development

Interactions with young children are fundamental for supporting and extending their learning.
© British Council

Through interactions we can support and extend a child’s learning and development, particularly in the area of communication and language.

Apart from building an emotional connection with the child through interactions, children benefit from hearing lots of talk, conversations and words. In 2012, Associate Professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, Meredith Rowe, carried out a study which looked at what contributes most to a child’s later vocabulary development. She found that:

  • children’s vocabulary at 30 months was influenced by the quantity of words parents used one year earlier,
  • their vocabulary at 42 months was influenced by parents’ use of a variety of sophisticated words one year earlier,
  • their vocabulary at 54 months was influenced by parents’ use of narratives and explanations one year earlier.

Adults can interact by talking, listening and responding to the child.

Even if a child is not yet able to communicate verbally, the adult can contribute to the exchange using language. For example:

The child grizzles because he is feeling hungry.
Adult: I can see you’re upset. Would you like some milk?
Child nods.

The child rubs her eyes.
Adult: You look sleepy. I think it’s time for a nap.

The child flaps her arms excitedly.
Adult: I know you like that song! It goes la, la, la, la!
Child squeals in delight.

By showing genuine interest in the child and adding interest to what the child has offered, we are building trust, communication, and developing the child’s language skills all at the same time.

We can support and extend a child’s language development, just by being with them and interacting in a natural way.

  • Share an interaction you have had with a child recently.

Post your comments below.

© British Council
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English in Early Childhood: Context and Communication

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