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Questions and Answers about Child Language



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American Speech- Language- Hearing Association


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Education and Kids


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What is language?

  • Language is a code that we learn to use in order to communicate ideas and express our wants and needs. Reading, writing, speaking, and some gesture systems are all forms of language.

What makes up this language code?

  • Language is made up of a series of rules for:

    • creating words or signs from smaller units like sounds, letters, or body movements

    • modifying the meaning of root words (e.g., girl + -s = girls, walk + -ed = walked, teach + -er = teacher, quick + ly = quickly, dis- + obey = disobey)

    • combining words together (the grammar of the language) attaching meaning to words

    • holding a conversation; telling a story; and using different forms of language for different listeners, purposes, and situations.

What is speech?

  • Speech is the spoken form of language.

How do children learn all these language rules?

  • Children learn language and speech by listening to the language around them and practicing what they hear. In this way, they figure out the rules of the language code. It is not learned all at once but in stages over time.

How can parents help a child learn to talk?

  • Talk to the child. Read to the child. Encourage the child to talk, but don't demand speech. Make talking fun.

How do you know that a child's language and speech are what they should be for a particular age?

  • There are expected language behaviors for different ages. For example, by 1 year of age a child should use one or two words, follow simple requests ("Come here"), and understand simple questions ("Where's your shoe?"). By 2 - 3 years of age, the child should be using two or three word sentences to talk about and ask for things and following two requests ("Get the ball and put it on the table"), Parents should also understand their child's speech most of the time.

  • Children are individuals and do develop at slower or faster rates than expected. What is most important is that the child shows continuous language growth.

When should I seek professional help?

  • When you become concerned. Don't delay. No child is too young to be helped. If there is a problem, early attention is important. If there is no problem, you will be relieved of worry.

Will hearing problems affect speech and language development?

  • Yes. The first years of life are particularly important for learning speech and language. Even mild hearing losses may cause children to miss much of the speech and language around them and result in critical developmental delays. Parents should make sure that their children receive a regular hearing evaluation from an audiologist certified by the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA), particularly if there is a history of ear infections, frequent colds or other upper respiratory infections, or allergies.

Are there ever other physical causes of language disability?

  • There are, but most often language disability exists without any known physical cause.

How about other causes?

  • Sometimes children are not exposed to enough language to learn the rules. Sometimes the child has no need to talk because parents respond to pointing and gestures instead of speech. But most language disabilities occur without an identifiable cause.

What can be done about language disabilities?

  • A speech-language pathologist with experience in child development can evaluate the child's language development, design an organized plan of language learning, and carry out the plan in individual or small group sessions. Educated at the master's or doctoral level, certified by ASHA, and licensed in almost all states, this professional will also help you help your child.

Where can I find a speech-language pathologist?

  • Speech-language pathologists provide services in schools, colleges and universities, hospitals, clinics, private practices, and other settings. To find a speech-language pathologist near you, write or call ASHA.
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