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How to support your child to understand language

Mum comforting young child on sofa bed
  • Date published:

  • Author: oliverkyle

Having a good understanding of language is vital for learning and thinking.

To understand language, we all have to:

  • Understand the meaning of words
  • Understand sentence structure and grammar within and across sentences
  • Understand the context behind the language used
  • Reason verbally, for instance the use of jokes/puns and idioms
  • Understand non-verbal aspects of language, such as sarcasm

With so many areas to understand, it is easy to see why some children may experience difficulties in developing and understanding language.

Strategies to support your child at home and in the classroom

There are many things that you can do to help your child develop their understanding of language. These include:

  • Make sure your child is paying attention and listening before speaking to them
  • Speak slowly to allow your child the time to take in the new information you are providing them with
  • Support what you are saying with something the child can see- for example, use gestures, pictures and objects
  • Use shorter sentences rather than longer ones- for example, “Put the seeds in, add water, and then it grows” rather than “I’m going to show you how to do some planting, you need to sprinkle the seeds around the soil after you’ve made holes…”
  • Pause between sentences, allowing extra time for the child to process what was said and to respond. This could be as long as 5-10 seconds for some children.
  • Always recognise the effort your child puts in to listen and understand. Praise them after they have listened to what you said and then actioned.
  • If they are struggling to take in what you have said, ask them to repeat in their own words what you have said or asked them to do
  • Use practical demonstrations to show what you’d like your child to do as many children with language difficulties can struggle to remember what has been asked of them

Family drawing a picture at a table

Strategies to support your child understand instructions

In the home environment and at school, we often require children to listen and understand in order to complete certain instructions.

If your child struggles to understand instructions, try:

  • Using simple sentences that follow the order in which activities are to be carried out- for example, “First can you…. Then….”
  • Don’t give too many instructions all in one go. Allow your child to carry out instructions without having to wait
  • Give explicit instructions and avoid using ambiguous language that your child might not understand- for example, “please take your plate into the kitchen” rather than “how about you take your plate into the kitchen now”

As your child starts to get to grips with language and seems ready to move on and develop their comprehension skills further, you can:

  • Increase the length of the instructions you are giving
  • Reduce the amount of visual support provided
  • Help you child to visualise or picture in their head exactly what they have to do
  • Agree to ways your child can let you know if they aren’t sure of something and need help

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