Language stimulation

Language stimulation is a set of interaction strategies that can be used in any context with young children. Language stimulation is particularly useful for early communicators, and early language users.

Overview

This teaching and learning practice encourages the emergence of verbal communication. Also, for early language users who are already using language to communicate, language stimulation can support children to:

  • engage in back-and-forth communication
  • use/understand more words
  • start to say longer sentences
  • use language for a range of social purposes. 

Language stimulation is a great way of building upon children’s communication attempts, and modelling how children can use more language.

Language stimulation strategies can also be used with Language and Emergent Literacy Learners to further extend upon their oral language, and as ways of repeating and validating their contributions to conversations/discussions.

Language stimulation strategies can be used during any interaction with children including in everyday situations, storytelling, reading/writing with children, during discussions, and performing arts/fine arts experiences.

See Teaching practices (Interacting with others) and  Teaching practices (Emergent Literacy)

Note: Educators use of questions, investigations, and promotion of sustained shared thinking is an important way to step up interaction strategies, for early language users and language and emergent literacy learners. For more information see: discussions and investigations - sustained shared thinking.

The benefits of language stimulation

Supportive language learning environments are created when educators have high expectations for every child and interact with children in respectful and responsive ways. When adults use language to respond to (and build upon) children’s communication attempts, this provides them with a logical way of extending their own language capacities.

Learning occurs in many different contexts and social environments when children watch others, talk with others and participate in routines and everyday experiences. Children also learn on their own and this learning can be stimulated and extended by the involvement of responsive adults.

- VEYLDF, 2016, Practice Principle: Integrated Teaching and Learning Approaches

When children are engaged in responsive, language-rich experiences, they are supported to continue building upon the language they can use and understand. It is important to uphold the idea of the child as a competent learner from birth when interacting with children.

The image of the child as a competent learner from birth drives professionals to provide a safe and stimulating environment, and encourage children to expand their capacities and deepen their knowledge and understandings of the world.

- VEYLDF, 2016, Practice Principle: Respectful Relationships and Responsive Engagement

Therefore, language stimulation is aimed at using language that is appropriate to the child’s current level of language learning, and within their ‘zone of proximal development’ (Vygotsky, 1967). This allows educators to consistently provide an intellectually stimulating environment that fosters optimal development.

Self-talk and parallel talk

An important way of stimulating language development is modelling language during interactions with children. Educators can talk about:

  • what they’re doing (self-talk)
  • what the child is doing (parallel talk).

When modelling language for young children it is best to talk about people, objects, places and events that are in the immediate context (talking about what we are doing here and now).

Using self-talk and parallel talk allows educators to engage children in an interaction, providing multiple examples of a particular vocabulary word or aspect of grammar in context, without requiring the child to respond.

When using these strategies, educators can provide opportunities for the child to say the word, word ending, or sentence structure, but they are not required or requested to do so.

Self-talk

The educator describes and comments on what he/she is doing. Language is provided to describe one’s own actions, when interacting and playing alongside children.

  • e.g. “I’m sitting down next to Ahmed. I want to see what Ahmed is doing with his play dough.”
  • e.g. “Look at all of this tasty fruit! I’m going to choose watermelon. I love watermelon. It’s my favourite fruit!”
  • e.g. “I’m digging in the sandpit! Digging deeper and deeper. I wonder where the digger is? I think Danika has it!”

Parallel talk

  • the educator commentates or narrates what a child is doing
  • language is provided to describe the child’s actions
  • educators use purposeful pauses, eye contact and gestures to allow children opportunities to communicate with words, sounds or gestures
  • educator: “You’re building a tower! You’ve got the blue block, and it’s going on the long red block. [pause] What is coming next? [pause] Now you’ve found the biggest green block! You’re sliding it in between the blue and red blocks. [pause] Wow the tower is getting taller and taller!”

Example with target vocabulary: eat and orange; context: teddy bear, toy animals, and toy fruit:

  • educator: "Teddy is hungry. Let’s find some food for the teddy bear. Here’s an orange. [pause] Do you want an orange? [pause] Teddy eats an orange. Doggy eats an orange."
    [pause]
  • child: [picks up orange and pretends to eat]
  • educator: "you eat an orange too. Orange yum…" [pause]
  • child: "orange" (approximation of word)
  • educator: "everyone likes to eat orange."

Child-directed speech

When speaking with infants and toddlers we often change how we speak, in a way often called child-directed speech. Child directed speech has been shown to be important for developing speech and language especially for early communicators and early language users (Birth – 30 months) (Varilly & Chandler, 2014).

Child-directed speech usually has:

  • a higher pitch
  • greater changes (fluctuations) in pitch, sounding a bit like singing than talking
  • a slower rate
  • more fluent and clear pronunciation
  • more frequent and longer pauses
  • a smaller and more restricted set of words used in utterances
  • a focus on objects or events happening now.

Note: Child-directed speech should not be confused with talking as a young child would (e.g. “baby talk”). It is a way of interacting that adults use with young children, but does not involve simplifying language to a great extent, nor introducing speech errors.

Expansions

This strategy is best used for early language users who are starting to use single words to communicate. When a child says a word (or word approximation) or two-word phrase, educators expand on the word(s) to make it into a short phrase or sentence. See examples below:

  • child: "drink"
  • educator: "Drink water" "Dog is drinking" "Teddy wants a drink"
  • child:  "up!" (with request gesture)
  • educator: "Let me up please!" "Let’s go up!"
  • child: "doggy run"
  • educator "yes, the doggy is running. Look at the dog run!"
  • child:  "him hurt? "
  • educator: "Is he hurt?"

Expansions are a great way to model how to combine words into short phrases and sentences, using the words that children are already saying in context.

Expansions can help to keep interactions going and to tell children you are listening and that you understand them.

Extensions

Extensions are useful language stimulation strategies for children who are combining some words together (e.g. ‘big ball’, ‘go car’). We can use extensions to:

  • show how to add more information to children’s language
  • model how to communicate messages using a variety of different sentences.

See the following examples where educators are adding more information to extend upon children’s language:

  • child: "dog drink"
  • educator: "Dog is thirsty. Dog drinks water."
  • child: "car go"
  • educator: "It's a red car. The fast car is going! The car goes… and stops."
  •  child: "baby cry"
  • educator: "The baby is hungry. Oh no, the crying baby! The baby is sad."

Extensions allow us to respond to what children say and stay in their ‘zone of proximal development’ (Vygotsky, 1967).

By providing language modelling that is more complex than what they are already saying, we can support children’s ability to process new information and learn new vocabulary and grammar. See the following examples where educators show how an idea can be extended and built upon using a variety of sentences:

  •  child: "dog drink"
  • educator: "Is the dog drinking?" "Dog isn’t drinking." "Isn’t the dog drinking? "
  • child: "car go"
  • educator: "Is the car going fast? Look at the car go! When will the car stop?"
  • child: "him sleepy?"
  • educator: "Is he sleepy?" "The teddy bear is sleepy!" "Is it time for teddy’s bedtime?" "Go to sleep teddy!"
  • child: "I *buyed a orange"
  • educator: "Wow, you bought an orange." "Did you buy a big orange?" "Let’s eat the orange!"

By using extensions we can avoid explicitly correcting children when they make grammatical errors (e.g. 'buyed' instead of 'bought', ‘her is hungry’, instead of ‘she is hungry’). Instead, we can use an extension or recast to model and let children hear how an adult would express that idea or build upon it.

Theory to practice

 

The importance of modelling language in responsive and child-centred ways is emphasised in many theories of language and learning.

According to Bandura’s (1977) Social Learning Theory, children’s ability to learn language is dependent on observation and engagement in authentic language experiences with responsive language modelling (i.e. modelled events).

Similarly, Vygotsky’s (1967) theory of socio-cultural learning helps explain how children learn to use language through social interaction. This theory describes how children learn new language from more capable peers or adults.

This is through multiple opportunities to engage in back-and-forth interaction, with educators being aware of the level of language that children are ready to learn: language that is within the ‘zone of proximal development’ (Vygotsky, 1967).

Language stimulation also aligns with Bruner’s concept of “scaffolding” (see Wood, Bruner & Ross, 1976). Using language stimulation strategies is a form of language scaffolding where children are provided with a model of language use through responsive interaction with educators.

Evidence base   

Research shows that children’s language development is dependent on the amount and quality of interactions with adults (e.g. parents and/or educators). Studies show that the amount of language and the richness of the interaction with young children predicts the growth of their vocabulary and grammar in later years (Varilly & Chandler, 2014; Weisleder & Fernald, 2013).

Language stimulation strategies, where adults use language to respond to children’s communication attempts and engage them in extended interactions and conversations, are particularly effective in developing children’s language (Justice, Jiang, & Strasser, 2018; Turnbull, Anthony, Justice, & Bowles, 2009).

Links to VEYLDF

Outcome 1: identity

Children feel safe, secure and supported

  • build secure attachment with one and then more familiar educators
  • initiate interactions and conversations with trusted educators

Children develop knowledgeable and confident self-identities

  • use their home language to construct meaning
  • develop strong foundations in both the culture and language/s of their family and the
  • broader community without compromising their cultural identities
  • reach out and communicate for comfort, assistance and companionship

Outcome 3: wellbeing    

Children take increasing responsibility for their own health and physical wellbeing 

  • are happy, healthy, safe and are connected to others

Outcome 5: communication

Children interact verbally and non-verbally with others for a range of purposes

  • engage in enjoyable reciprocal interactions using verbal and non-verbal language
  • respond verbally and non-verbally to what they see, hear, touch, feel and taste
  • are independent communicators who initiate Standard Australian English and home
  • language conversations, and demonstrate the ability to meet the listener’s needs
  • express ideas and feelings and understand and respect the perspectives of others

Children begin to understand how symbols and pattern systems work

  • begin to make connections between, and see patterns in, their feelings, ideas, words and
  • actions, and those of others

Experience plans and videos 

For age groups: early communicators (birth - 18 months).

For age groups: early language users  (12 - 36 months).

For age groups: language and emergent literacy learners (30 - 60 months).

Links to learning foci and teaching practices:

References

Bandura, A. (1977) Social learning theory. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.

Bruner, J. S. (1986). Actual minds, possible worlds. Harvard University Press.

Justice, L. M., Jiang, H., & Strasser, K. (2018). Linguistic environment of preschool

classrooms: What dimensions support children’s language growth? Early Childhood

Research Quarterly, 42(2017), 79–92.

Turnbull, K. P., Anthony, A. B., Justice, L. M., & Bowles, R. (2009). Preschoolers’ exposure to

language stimulation in classrooms serving at-risk children: The contribution of group size and activity context. Early Education and Development, 20(1), 53–79.

Varilly, P., & Chandler, D. (2014). Look who’s talking: speech style and social context in language input to infants are linked to concurrent and future speech development.

Developmental Science, 17(6), 880–891.

Victorian State Government Department of Education and Training (2016)    Victorian Early Years Learning and Development Framework (VEYLDF) (pdf - 1.14mb) Retrieved 3 March 2018,

Victorian Curriculum and Assessment Authority (2016) Illustrative Maps from the VEYLDF to the Victorian Curriculum F–10. Retrieved 3 March 2018

Vygotsky, Lev S. (1967). Play and its role in the mental development of the child. Soviet Psychology, 5(3): 6–18.

Weisleder, A., & Fernald, A. (2013). Talking to Children Matters: Early Language Experience Strengthens Processing and Builds Vocabulary. Psychological Science, 24(11), 2143–2152.

Wood, D., Bruner, J., & Ross, G. (1976). The role of tutoring in problem solving. Journal of Child Psychology & Psychiatry & Applied Disciplines, 17(2), 89-100.