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Between the ages of one and four, there are some key speech milestones that children should be achieving. However, if you notice your child is having speech delays or difficulty holding a conversation, it’s not always a sign of a learning challenge.

In fact, speech delays are one of the most common forms of developmental delay, and according to speech professionals, children who appear to be “late talkers” will usually catch up to their peers in due time. That said, sometimes a speech delay is indicative of developmental language delay, and children may need additional support, such as speech therapy, to improve their language skills.

Here, we’ll discuss why your child may be having trouble holding a meaningful conversation, key speech milestones and how learning phonics can help them develop stronger communication skills.

Why is my child having trouble engaging in conversation?

There are a few reasons why your child may be having difficulties engaging in conversion, ranging from that they’re simply a late talker to developmental speech delays.

While developmental speech delays do not go away on their own like “late talking” tends to, most can be corrected relatively easily if caught in the early years — and it’s important that they are. Failing to get the proper speech therapy or professional assistance for a child when they have a developmental delay could significantly affect their social skills as they age. This can show as social anxiety, limited social interaction or an inability to hold a rich conversation.

Mr Goh Huai Zhi, senior speech therapist at the Speech Therapy Department, Singapore General Hospital (SGH), notes that parents should not be too worried about their child’s ability to pronunciate until they’re between the ages of three and seven, as this is when they should start pronouncing consonants correctly.

Key developmental milestones for children’s speech

With the above things in mind, here are some key speech milestones that typical children should achieve:

  • By age 1, children should be able to say simple words like “ma-ma”, “da-da” and “bye-bye”.
  • By age 2, they should be starting to string a few words together at a time to form simple sentences.
  • By age 3, they should be able to speak in complete sentences, hold simple conversations and ask and answer questions.
  • By age 4, your child should be able to use more complex sentences and tell stories.

Beyond these ages, from about 5 years old and up, children should be able to have full conversations, meaning they should be pretty close to 100% understandable and be able to take conversational turns.

Learning phonics to develop speech

The benefits of phonics reach far beyond teaching children essential reading skills. In fact, phonics play an important role in literacy development as a whole, including helping children with their speech and language development.

Understanding syllables, letter sounds and letter-sound relationships are all part of speech and something that is covered extensively in any phonics programme. Playing word games and storytelling are a couple examples of how you can use phonics to help develop your child’s speech.

Within these activities, children should learn:

  • Phonemes and graphemes.
  • Word blending.
  • Pronunciation.
  • And other phonological skills.

Even understanding the way the mouth moves to create sounds and sentences is integral to speech development and something that is inherently valuable about phonics.

Outside of the classroom, however, children still need to be supported to develop their spoken language skills meaningfully.

How to support your child while they learn speech

Like all learning, parents need to support their children at home by supplementing what they’re working on at an English language school like Jan & Elly with activities that challenge them. For speech, one of the most important things you can do is converse with your child often.

But more specifically, here are a few tips to implement at home while your child is developing their speech:

  • Use gestures when speaking to your child. If your child is having trouble with their speech, using gestures can help them develop their communication skills overall. Gestures are an alternative or supplemental way for them to communicate before they are fully fluent in their speech, which can greatly facilitate the growth of their spoken language skills.
  • Talk to your child often and in a way they can imitate. Speaking with your child often is essential in their development. However, you should be ready to meet them where they are at — especially if they’re having trouble with their speech. Speaking to them in a way they’ll be able to imitate can help them build up their language processing skills.
  • Keep them engaged. Engagement is an important part of learning. When children are engaged, they become more interested and, in turn, come away from teachable moments with greater results. To keep them engaged, speech activities should be fun and exciting.

Whether your child is experiencing some type of language processing delay or is simply a late talker, enrolling them in a phonics programme will make sure that they have all the tools they need to start developing their speech. Even if they do need additional support, such as speech therapy, phonics programming is a great foot to start them off on.

As a disclaimer, it’s important to remember that things mentioned here are general guidelines. It should be understood that children develop at their own pace. If you have any concerns about your child’s speech development, it’s always best to consult with a paediatrician or speech-language pathologist who will be able to provide proper guidance on the best steps for your child. 
Book an assessment or enrol in a trial class with Jan & Elly today to learn how we can help your child become a stronger English speaker.

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