I recently created a mailing list for anyone interested in Speech Therapy, communication, child development and just generally helping children struggling with talking.
One of my lovely subscribers emailed me back and told me that she was concerned about her 4-year-old son who has just over 50 words and was wondering what to do next. So I decided I would write about this as it is something that has come up often with the families I have worked with.
First of all, if a child at 4 years old is only using single words in one language or more, then they have a language delay and in the UK you would most likely be eligible for a referral to the NHS Speech and Language Therapy service.
To help you get started it’s important to figure out what is going on with your child’s language before you can look at how you can help them move forwards. You can start with analysing and breaking down what your child is doing at this single word level.
Here are some quick questions you could be asking yourself:
ARE THEIR WORDS COPIED IN ANY WAY?
Out of the words your child says look at how many might be copied from what they have heard others say. For example, some different ways in which a child might say the word ‘juice’ are:
1) Your child said ‘juice’ straight after when you might have said it to him/her so he/she has essentially just repeated the word immediately after you. They might be wanting juice or might not be but just liked copying the sounds they hear. This is a difficult one to figure out if your child is making a verbal request or if they are just copying you but you have to observe your child’s behaviour (e.g. their body language, pointing, eye gaze and if they start to get distressed) over some time to see which one it is.
2) Your child said ‘juice’ to you and are indicating that they actually want juice.
3) Your child said ‘juice’ randomly out loud whilst they are playing and it does not look like they are meaning they want you to give them juice but heard the word and like to repeat what has registered in their brain.
These questions help figure out if the words your child is saying are meaningful or just copied from their environment.
If they are copied, this is called Echolalia. We have to discount these words when we count the number of single words your child uses.
So make a list of all of the words your child independently says and if you want you can write down which words your child is copying in a separate column.
ARE YOUR CHILDS WORDS NOUNS OR ARE THEY USING VERBS ASWELL?
When most children start learning words they often start saying nouns, these are names for objects and people. So they will use words to describe things they see and/ or people they know.
Early words often tend to be ‘mummy’, ‘daddy’ (or their equivalent), or maybe other words that have particular significance to your child.
For example, in my daughter’s case ‘duck’ became one of her first words because she loved her toy duck as a toddler and she was fascinated by it so much and to be honest I probably said the word ‘duck’ more than ‘mummy’!😂 .
Verbs are ‘doing’ words. Examples of the kinds of verbs your child might be saying are ‘eating’, ‘jumping’, ‘walking’, ‘playing’, ‘crashing’, ‘splashing’, ‘crying’ etc.
Try separating your word list into nouns and verbs to see how many words they are saying in each category. This is what I look at when assessing a child at single word level.
SO WHAT CAN I DO NEXT? I HEAR YOU SAY…
If you find that your child has more nouns than verbs then this is what your next step will be – to increase their vocabulary of verbs.
The chances are that if your child has under 50 words most of them will be nouns. If they have above 50 words then there is likely to be some verbs there but the question is how many.
Your child needs to increase their vocabulary of both nouns and verbs before they are ready to start joining words together and making sentences as short two -word English sentences will often require the noun + verb.
It is also important to mention that we are talking about your child’s spoken language here and I haven’t discussed with you yet about your child’s understanding of words.
It is crucial to find out if your child’s understanding of spoken language is age-appropriate or if this is also delayed. A Speech and Language Therapist will be able to assess this for you and let you know if this is the case as this changes the way you help your child.
If your child’s understanding (also called receptive language) is also delayed then the focus needs to switch to helping your child to understand words rather than expecting the child to say them.
It is important to work on developing his /her understanding and use of single words of both nouns and verbs before moving on to developing your child’s sentences.
OTHER CATEGORIES OF WORDS TO INCLUDE:
To also help build your child’s vocabulary and ultimately their sentences, it is super useful to find out if your child is already using any of the following categories of words and if not then to start to target these for your child to learn next:
– Social words: ‘hello, ‘bye’
– Refusals: ‘no’, ‘not’
– Prepositions/ locations: ‘in’, ‘on’, ‘here’, ‘out’, ‘up’, ‘there’
– Pronouns: ‘he’, ‘she’, ‘I’, ‘mine’, ‘your’
– Adjectives/ describing words: ‘hot’, ‘cold’, ‘yuck’.
And finally, here’s some super useful tips to help your child to learn and increase his/her vocabulary of single words. If you haven’t downloaded it yet, get your free copy of my 10 Speech Therapy Tips for helping Children to Communicate.
If you haven’t done so already sign up to my mailing list for more tips and ideas to help your child with communication. I’d love to have you there! :).
And finally… I put together an Early Words Checklist to help you track what words your child says/ understands and which words to target next to help them learn words.
Want help with any of this? Apply for a free strategy session by clicking me and let’s get started.