Language Acquisition Before Primary School

We use the research from our studies and from a Speech Therapist, who is highly qualified. If we think a child by the age of 3 needs support with language we recommend a Speech Therapist. Up until 3 years of age we just let the child express themselves as they want and merely encourage them to be involved in conversation. After 3 years of age they are more aware of the complexities of language and can feel frustrated that they are not easily understood. A Speech Therapist can be involved not to teach grammar at this age but to teach correct pronunciation. Only a small number of children will need this assistance and most children gradually work out pronunciation slowly on their own by listening to people around them model correct pronunciation. It is wonderful to see these sessions delivered by the speech therapist in the form of games and see the children so happy to attend. Children can’t wait to go along and see the therapist as the therapist is viewed by the child as a great playmate. There is so much positive acknowledgement of the child efforts in these sessions and you can see the beaming smiles on the children when they achieve clearer speech and people around them understand more of what they say.

Everything that is written states the importance of not correcting a children’s speech until the final 6 months before they start Primary School regarding correct word choice and grammar. These are the years where they experiment with language and we want to just encourage, support, and love to hear them speak freely without our interference, judgement or correction. If we do interfere, judge and correct to a child that will be seen that you are the critical parent and there is the fear in the child that you want them to be perfect. This can have the opposite effect on their language and they will start to second guess before speaking and maybe even develop a stutter or choose to use the wrong words to get up your nose if they know it is having an effect. I know the teacher in us can come out and we want to teach our children all the time but with this age the key is to model. When you teach a child at this age about language it is just not appropriate as they are merely using language to express the complicated world they see around them. They are not cognitively developed enough to be concern about the grammatical correctness of their expression.

When a child turns 4 years of age you will find they want to talk non-stop and this is an age when they are sorting out grammar and still should not have interference in their experimentation as they try to mimic our grammar. The best thing a child can have are parents who model positive communication where the child is valued for contributing anything s/he wants to say. We do not want a child at this age to start to thinking s/he is required to be perfect; perfection will come with practice and showing you want to listen to all s/he contributes. Joining in her conversation is the key to language development.

The last 6 months, before a child leaves us for Primary School, we address any little bits of grammar that the child hasn’t sorted out yet. Let me assure because of our small groups which allow such individual attention, it is very rare that we have to start to actually teach correct grammar. Should there be a need, we will bring parents onboard and together we will work on this. The way we will start helping (not correcting) is just to repeat what the child said but using the correct grammar. We would not ask them to repeat it after us, this could imply they are failing at language. Gradually, naturally the correct grammatical form will be taken on board by the child. This way we are not being critical with the possibility of damaging their self-esteem that is still very fragile at such an early age, but just acknowledging and just demonstrating the way we would say it. We don’t tell them they must say this or that, we model directly after what they have said and it becomes naturally absorbed by the child as they are at the conceptual age of understanding and hearing the differences in language and able to notice what you are saying is more closely aligned to what they hear around them.

Best way to teach language at this age is to listen!