How can I use books to improve my child’s language skills?

26 August, 2018

Reading books to your child helps their minds grow and develop because you’re introducing them to new worlds outside of their immediate environment. With the use of book-reading, you can also lay the foundation for their future reading and writing skills.

Why are books so different to just talking to my child?

For children learning language, the best thing about books is that the pictures and words are always there to be read again and again. When we use spoken language, our words “disappear” as soon as we’ve finished talking, whereas stories and words in books come back to your child the same way each time we read them. This makes learning new words and ideas much easier for your child.

So what is the best way to read to my child to have the most impact on his language learning?

As adults, we tend to read books in a very structured way. We often insist that the pages are finished before moving on and that we must read the book in order. Instead of allowing the bookreading to be an adult-led activity, try to make it more interactive, follow your child’s lead and tune in to his interests.

Here are some simple strategies for you to try…

1. Get Face to Face

This is a very important starting point for your child’s language learning. Although it may seem difficult to achieve when reading to your child, being able to see each other’s faces will help both of you to read facial expressions and subtle gestures, understand spoken words more easily, give you a closer connection and also allow you to keep your child’s attention for longer and be more tuned-in to his focus and interests. Try sitting side-by-side at eye level (maybe at a table) and placing the book between you.

2. Let you child “read” the book their way!

Your aim is to encourage conversation and turn-taking, not for your child to simply sit and listen. Let her choose the book and allow her to spend more time on the pages she likes best. This way, she’ll be more inclined to stay in the activity for longer and be more open to language learning because you’re talking about what she’s interested in.

Remember…There’s more than one way to read a book!

  • You don’t have to start at the beginning
  • You can skip pages or not finish the book
  • You can just talk about the pictures and not read the words
  • You can change the words to make them easier to understand
  • You can read the same book over and over again, even in one sitting

3. Use the 4 S’s – Say Less, Stress, Go Slow, and Show

Say less – Use familiar vocabulary and shorter sentences to help your child understand and learn.

Stress – Make stories come alive by emphasising important words, adding sound effects, using silly voices and using actions and facial expressions.

Go Slow – Tell the story at a slower pace to help your child understand and have a chance to take a turn.

Show – Show your child what the words mean by pointing to the pictures as you talk about them and using actions and gestures.

4. Repeat, Repeat, Repeat!!

Although it can be rather dull for an adult, children love to hear the same story over and over again, have a chance to talk about what you’re reading and to imitate the words. The more opportunities they have to talk about the ideas they see in the book and the more they hear the same words over and over in context, the more their vocabulary will grow.

So, give it a shot! Have a try at these strategies next time you read a book to your child and see how different the experience can be!

Good luck! 🙂

Sarah Carroll