Listening and spoken language skills are critical skills for life. Developing clear speech will allow your child to communicate with others through language, and express themselves in sharing their ideas, concerns and thoughts. Here are our 7 tips for encouraging your child’s speech development.
Firstly, let’s define speech—which is different to language. When someone is talking about speech, they’re referring to the sounds that people make to communicate. That includes the vowels and consonants, the rhythm and pattern, and the sound quality.
1: Optimal Access to Sound
Children learn to say the sounds and words which they can hear clearly. Having good access to sound is therefore key in speech development and building listening skills. It is important for children to be able to hear low-, mid-, and high-frequency speech sounds. This will enable them to use these sounds in their spoken language. The Ling 6 Sound Test is a practical way to ensure that your child is able to hear the sounds of speech that they need to build their listening and spoken language skills.
2: Listening Environment
The listening environment refers to the location of a child and the sounds present within that space. When your child is learning new words or sounds, it is important that the listening environment supports their learning. For example, a large room with background noise like music and other children playing can be very distracting and difficult to hear in. A better listening environment would be a smaller room with no music playing and fewer people. To help your child hear you clearly, reduce background noise in the listening environment, for example switching off the television, music, heating or air conditioning units.
3: Closer—Not Louder—is Better
When interacting with your child with a hearing loss, sit beside them to keep a close distance to their audio processor. This will help them to hear your voice and speech clearly. Use a natural and conversational volume when talking with your child as raising the volume of your voice can distort or change the speech sounds you make. If you are concerned that your child won’t be able to hear you, move closer rather than raising your voice. Ideally, try not to be more than one meter away from their processor when communicating.
4: Natural Language with Natural Repetition
In order for your child to develop speech skills, they need regular exposure to clear speech. It is important that your child listens to speech being used in various meaningful and natural situations. Natural situations include your child’s day-to-day activities such as: talking about the plans for the day at the breakfast table; choosing the clothes they are going to wear; calling out to pets for a meal; and talking on the telephone. Using speech in natural situations helps your child to relate the language you use to the activity. This will motivate them to join in too. Your child’s hearing professional may provide suggestions for activities which also support your therapy goals. For example: words to use at home that begin or end with a specific final sound, and ideas for correcting speech production.
5: Acoustic Highlighting
Acoustic highlighting is a great strategy to use when developing your child’s speech. This strategy makes a specific sound more interesting to listen to. It can also make some spoken words or phrases a little easier for your child to imitate. To use this strategy, add interest to the sounds you are focusing on. For example, lengthen the “m” sound in “yum” to “yummmmmm”. Increase the pitch and rhythm of a word to create a sing-song voice, for example “heeellooo!”
6: Guidance from a Professional
When developing your child’s speech, it is important to work closely with a specialist in that field, for example a speech-language pathologist or a teacher of the Deaf. Speech development is closely linked to hearing. As such, it is important for the professional to also have expertise in the field of hearing loss.
7: Have Fun!
The best way for a child to learn new listening and spoken language skills is through activities that are interesting to them. The more you can bring enjoyment and fun to the interactions with your child, the more they will be motivated to learn!
This post was written by Ingrid Steyns, a certified Speech-Language Pathologist, Listening and Spoken Language Specialist and Rehabilitation Manager at MED-EL.
Like this post on speech development? Find out how to know if you or your child should visit a speech-language pathologist.
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