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The Importance of Early Language

Complex language doesn't develop unless children are exposed to it.

(Follow the blue text for tips)


Have you ever considered the quality of language you use with you children?

Is it possible that the language you use may be largely functional. e.g. Put your socks on please. Have you found your shoes? We have to go.

When busy it's easy to fall into that language style.

So why do we need to take the time to talk with our children, develop their vocabulary through reading, extend their level of comprehension by exposing them to increasingly complex concepts and help them to learn how pragmatic language works: facial expressions, intonation, inflection, volume and when to pause?

Why are Language Skills Important to Life Success?

​Language is the foundation for most other learning to build upon. As we grow, competent language skills are crucial for more complex understandings.


A well-developed vocabulary, the ability to articulate well, the ability to read and write well all assist us to succeed early in life.  And although this doesn't necessarily guarantee life-long success, early language skills greatly increases its likelihood.


Be it fair or not, in our modern society we're judged by our ability to communicate. As a parent it makes sense to ensure our children are as effective at communicating as possible because for many of us, our communication skills create our life.

For example: Even as adults, if we go for an interview and are poor communicators, we are often judged as having less ability than we actually possess.


I know someone with an IQ of 140+ who has a stutter. While he had the brainpower to do whatever he wanted, people were inclined to assess his abilities as lower than they actually were. His resultant loss of confidence made things even more difficult for him.

For a child in a school environment to thrive, they need the vocabulary to understand what's being said to them, otherwise learning becomes extremely difficult.

Why the Ability to Follow Directions is an Indicator of Comprehension
How to Develop Instructional Language:

I've seen children who've had very limited ability to follow directions, and this is serious because it can affect their future learning.

As just one example: They could be identified at the beginning of their school life, by their inability to understand simple prepositions like: behind, next to, in front, beside, etc while lining up.


And then, when their 3D world is reduced to a 2D world (on a page,) their lack of ability becomes even more apparent.​

For example: While instructions may have been in single directives (one instruction at a time,) they may have been issued more quickly than the child can follow. And while they're still working out the first thing, the teacher has moved on to the second, or third direction. The potential confusion, and frustration, for these children can adversely affect their attitude to learning.

​​​But assuming there's no suspicion of a hearing disability, it can still be quite difficult for children to move from simple instructions, to more complex ones. Moving from single directives, to multiple directives, needs to be done in stages for your child to understand what's expected. And it's wise to provide familiar circumstances, as a scaffold, as you increase the difficulty.


​For example: Can you please get your lunchbox? (1 variable)

Can you please get your lunchbox out of your school bag? (2 variables)

Can you please get your lunchbox out of your orange sports bag and put it on the sink? (4-5 variables)

The above examples provide a logical staging of the difficulty of a routine you may wish your child to assume over time.

However, 'Can you please get "Whiskers' from behind the lounge, give her a drink of milk, some dry food and put her outside for a wee?' may be much less likely to be achieved with success.


While the above example can be difficult I've found that 5 variable instructions, could be managed well by four-year-olds by staging the levels of difficulty... And if  instructions are familiar, more variables can be successfully added.

The Value of Staging Variables in Instructions

An opportunity for consideration.


Do you ever get frustrated, that your child didn't do what you asked them to,

or half-did what was asked,

or did it incorrectly.


Or didn't even attempt it.


If your child frequently misunderstands you & has difficulty producing sounds accurately it may be prudent to get their hearing checked, particularly if they're not hearing softer sounds like 'c' and 'g,' or the difference between vowels sounds like 'e' and 'i,' as in pen and pin.

If you haven't staged the introduction of instructions with your child, by increasing their complexity over time, they may experience less success understanding than you hope.


Lack of comprehension can have both functional and behavioural implications.

Assuming that like most children, your positive attention is better than your negative attention, your child will likely try to do what you ask. 


But your child will also quickly lose interest,

or become upset, if they're not achieving what you want. What's the point for them, if they're trying their best, but you're still not happy.

It makes much more sense to stack it, so your child feels success.

To assist your children in following directions well, helping them to understand prepositions may help.

We use prepositions all the time in every day language. For example: Can you put your bag inside your cupboard? The boy is behind his mate. And especially in school settings: Can you draw a circle around the blue square?

There are a lot of prepositions and they're often used in instructions.

Prepositions are words that show how nouns relate to other words within a given sentence, or to each other.

The penguin is under the table.

The ball is on top of the chicken.

Where is the heart?

The heart is between the Wolf and Red Riding Hood or it's in the middle.

Where is the Wolf? He's next to or beside the heart.

There are some excellent first learning books that identify common prepositions and I suggest examining them with your child.


Or you can also find real life examples of prepositions, or play a game like 'Swapsies' with your young child.

For example: 'I'm behind you and you're in front of me. But where are you now?' Swap positions.

Your child needs to say where he, or she is, relative to you.

'Mummy, you're next to me and I'm next to you.'


Swap again. 'Now I'm next to the dishwasher and you're in front of the lounge.' Swap and continue.

We've identified ways to help develop understanding of prepositions.


For more ideas on developing more complex language skills, go to Best Starts for Kids above.

Or click on one of the links below.

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