When will he catch up? – Language Delay in the Early Years.

You pick your child up from nursery and it seems all the other children are chattering away telling their mums and dads about their day while you have to ask your little one hundreds of questions just to get a single word response.

It doesn’t matter how many times professionals say, ‘children just develop at different rates’ it does not put your mind at ease.

So what will?

Understanding the process of speech and language development can help to ease your anxiety. It will also help identify whether or not you child has language delay and what are the right strategies to support your child to progress.

“Learning to speak is one of the most complicated physical actions that humans can perform, It requires the coordination of more than 70 muscles and many different body parts. Until children are able to gain control over these muscles and body parts, they start with the simplest, most basic activity: opening and closing the jaw to simulate the speech they hear around them.” Dr Barbora Davis (2011)

The pyramid below illustrates the stages of language development:


Try and Identify the level at which your child is having difficulty and look for strategies to support development in specific areas. Have a look at these fantastic ideas from Leeds NHS 

Understand your child’s diagnosis and the prognosis attached to this. Don’t expect more than your child is currently capable of. Work at their pace.

But, what else can I do to help catch them up with their peers?

Children’s early language environments profoundly impact their ultimate life-course trajectories, affecting not only their linguistic development but also their educational attainment and cognitive outcomes. A famous foundational study by Hart and Risely (2003) demonstrated a significant correlation between the number of words a child hears and his or her IQ and later educational attainment.

However, it is  not merely the quantity of words that matters: the qualitative aspects of parent language also significantly affect child development and outcomes, including complexity of speech, responsive caregiving, and adult–child interaction.

  • Parents have more impact on children’s outcomes than any other factor
  • The amount and type of language used at home has an effect on children’s overall language development
  • Good early communication sets the pattern for later childhood and adolescence

What strategies can I use to encourage their language development?

  • Support the language development using these strategies in everyday communication based around everyday routines.
  • Observe
    • Body language;
    • Look at where they are looking;
    • Talk about things they are engaged with
    • Try to follow their lead in the conversation
  • Think about why you are asking questions:

    What have you been painting today’, ‘is it a monkey?’ ‘is he eating a banana?’ ‘do you like bananas?’

    • You already know the answers. More importantly your child already knows, you know the answers. They are less likely to respond if they feel as though they are being tested
    • Swap your questions for comments and use it as an opportunity to enrich language

      ‘ Wow! what a beautiful painting’ ‘ its a cheeky brown monkey’ ‘he’s eating a delicious banana’

    • Here we have exposed them to new words: beautiful, cheeky, brown, delicious
  • Take turns
    • As well as commenting think about taking turns. make sure you wait, giving a chance for your child to respond.

A:‘Wow what a beautiful painting’

look expectantly at the child, count to ten in your head

C: ‘Monkey’

(sometimes a child will take a turn without speaking. look for their conversational turn. It might be a smile, eye contact, or a vocalisation)

A: its a cheeky brown monkey ….etc

I would love to know how easy these techniques were to try and whether the article has been useful for any parents or teachers. I have more strategies for language delay so feel free to leave your comments and questions  below.

Martha :)

2 replies
  1. Natalie Burtoft
    Natalie Burtoft says:

    My 3.5 year old son is currently seeing a speech therapist on the NHS. He tends to say singular words but can string a few together and tends to use the same letter like ‘t’ for cat, hat so he would say ‘tat’ for both.
    It does worry me that he won’t catch up but from reading this it does give me hope and I will certainly use the suggestions. Thank you

    • martha
      martha says:

      Hi Natalie,
      I’m glad you have found it useful. I hope you are benefitting from seeing the Speech and Language Therapist – remember don’t be afraid to ask loads of questions! that’s what they are there for.

      It is very encouraging to hear your little one is starting to put some words together, that’s great! remember to expand his utterences where you can. When he asks you for a drink you can expand his vocabulary by adding more information, ‘oh you want your drink of juice?’ – hope that helps!


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