Sunday 31 March 2019

The Importance of Early Language Skills

Communication is one of the most important skills that human beings acquire. It is important for interacting with others and making friends, as well as for survival. The ability to communicate so sophisticatedly sets us apart from other animals; it makes us unique. Language is one of the most important skills we will learn. Without language we would not be able to order a coffee, tell someone we love them or call for help. 

Speech and language development begins before birth and continues through early childhood and into adolescence. (In fact, you could say that it continues throughout your life as adults can learn new vocabulary too.) The importance of language acquisition in the early years is often not given enough significance but, the truth is, the amount of language a young child has, will affect them later on. Professor Roulestone, the Director of the Speech and Language Therapy Research Unit in Bristol says, 'as parents, we can have a big impact on how our children learn to talk and the better children are talking by the age of two years, the better they will do when they start school.'

Not only are children's communication skills important for education, they can also have a huge impact on their happiness, behaviour and future prospects. The number of children with speech and language difficulties is rising with around 75% of health visitors saying they have seen an increase in the last few years. This number will likely increase due to lack of preventative work carried out by speech and language therapists (caused by lack of funding) and also certain aspects of modern living which hinder social interaction.

There is a lot of research to suggest that a child's speech and language ability in early childhood can affect them for the rest of their lives. Therefore, it is so important to help young children in all aspects of their speech and language development, as early as possible, in order to give them the best start in life.

Let's take a look at some of the research.

15-20% of toddlers are late talkers

Late talkers are very common with around 15-20 % of children talking later than average. Those who start talking later, often babbled later too. It is likely that they did not get enough practice saying speech sounds via babbling. Babbling is important in order to practice sounds and build vocabulary later on. 

Late talkers never totally catch up

Most children who are late with talking (around 50-75 %) seem to catch up with their peers by the time they are five years old, however, they may not catch up completely. It has been found that their language skills, although average, do not develop to the same level as their peers who did not have an early language delay. Research conducted by Leslie Rescorla, a clinical developmental psychologist, followed a group of late talkers from the age of 2 to 17 years and discovered that later talkers always scored significantly lower than their peers on tests of their language and literacy skills.  

Early language skills predict later achievements

Vocabulary at age five predicts later school achievements. Children with poor language at the age of five were six times less likely to reach expected level in both English and maths at the age of 11. Furthermore, it has been found that language skills at age of two predict life achievements. Children who start preschool with better language skills are more likely to go to college, own their own homes, be married and live in high-income neighbourhoods.

Early spoken language skills predict literacy levels 

It has been found that early language skills can predict a child's literacy level at the age of 11. Furthermore, at the age of 14, there is a five year gap between children with early language delay and their peers. This is because a child's ability to speak and understand language can have a significant impact on their literacy skills. Children who struggle with language will also struggle to learn to read. Sally Neaum, author of 'What comes before phonics?', points out that, 'children's spoken language and ability to listen and respond are the basis of almost all learning, including all later literacy learning'.

Language deficits linked to behaviour problems

Every knows that the terrible twos is a phenomenon experienced by toddlers at around the age of two. However, did you know that their inability to communicate effectively could be causing these behaviour issues? At the age of two, a toddler is starting to gain more physical and cognitive skills and starts to be more independent. However, there is a deficit between their understanding of language and their spoken language skills. It may be precisely the mismatch in ability between these two skills that causes problems. They are unable to explain clearly their needs, wants and desires and when they are not understood, this can cause problems. 

However, toddlers are not the only ones with behaviour issues due to poor language skills. It has been found that two thirds of 7-14 year olds with serious behaviour problems also have language impairment. 

30 million vocabulary gap

The disadvantage gap starts early on. Studies have found differences in vocabulary and language processing in children as young as 18 months old can be linked to low socio-economic status. In 2003, Hart and Risley published a paper entitled 'The Early Catastrophe'. They described how they found a 30 million word gap between children from poorer families and their more well-off counterparts. This is due to differences in the way parents and carers interact with their children. 

Parent child interaction matters

Studies have found that the quantity and quality of a child's language environment is the strongest predictor of their language development. Often, poorer children are said to have greater risk of speech and language development due to the way their parents interact with them. Mothers who have low socio-economic status have been found to talk less and respond less to their children. Furthermore, they tend to repeat rather than expand on what their children say. 

NEW online parenting course

I do not think parents get enough support in understanding the best ways to interact with their children. When I did my speech and language therapy training, we would go into children's centres and talk to parents with young babies about the best ways to communicate with their children. This preventative work is long gone as funding for the NHS is ever decreasing. However, I believe this work to be some of the most important. By giving parents the skills and understanding they need right at the beginning, it will empower them to be able to give their children the best start in their journey towards successful communication skills, which will positively impact them for the rest of their lives!

Therefore, I am happy to announce that I will be running an online course for parents with babies and young children, as well as those who are expecting a baby soon. It will empower you with all the knowledge and know how you need to confidently help your child to talk. The course will start on June 27th and registration is now open! To save £10 with the early bird discount, click HERE.


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