Research has shown that children learn more language when they are engaged in conversation than when they just listen to an adult talk. But how do you engage a child in a conversation? How do you help her develop the confidence to participate? Use these 5 strategies to encourage children to take an active part in interactions, a crucial part of language development.
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To encourage conversation, listen to your child. When you are reading, pause and let her weigh in. When you ask a question, wait for an answer, giving her time to think and respond. In general, slow down, give your child your attention and be patient so that she has a chance to participate. By listening, we show children that what they have to say is important.
Follow Your Child’s Lead
Respond to your child, rather than directing the conversation. If she tells you about the toy she is playing with, talk about it and ask questions. If she rhymes words, rhyme words too. If she wants to sing, sing with her. If she asks a question, or expresses an interest in a topic, respond with relevant information. When you follow her lead, your interactions will be interesting to her and appropriate for her age and language level.
Prove the Power of Language
When possible and appropriate, fulfill requests your child makes in the target language. This shows her you understand and encourages her to keep talking. You can make this easier by offering choices and then respecting what she chooses. The choices can be as simple as asking if she would like milk or juice. Offering choices is particularly effective with beginning language learners because they hear the options, making it easier for them to produce the words.
Focus on Meaning
Respond to the message of what your child says, and do not correct her pronunciation or grammar. Research shows that error correction does not help children learn language and interrupts the flow of speech. You can use the correct form naturally as you answer her, but focus on the content of her communication.
Engage with Play
Conversation comes in many different forms. Imaginative play, games, storytelling and music can all be interactive. Invite your child to take an active part in conversations by taking a playful approach to language. Your child will happily participate when she is having fun.
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