Jarrisvette Villarreal, is from South, Texas in the United States. She worked as a Speech language Pathologist Assistant in Brownsville, Texas and then moved to Spain to pursue a Masters in Bilingual and Multicultural Education at la Universidad de Alcala in Alcala de Henares. She has been living in Span for 4 years and working as an English Language assistant with a variety of ages within the school system. She is currently working as a Speech therapist at Sinews and is excited to be a part of the team.

Do you notice that your little one is not yet speaking? Are you asking yourself why? Have you done a lot of research on how to promote talking, but can’t quite make it happen? Maybe we should take a step back, and ask ourselves if they are ready to talk? Have they acquired the pre-language skills that set the foundation for words?

As babies grow, their abilities change. Babies are like sponges; they absorb so much during their first years of life. They go from newborns who mostly sleep to walking, talking toddlers. This doesn’t happen overnight; there is a lot that happens in between these two phases, called “baby steps.” Little by little, they are going through minor changes every day and learning how to become these walking, talking toddlers. We always celebrate the big changes, like them producing their first word or taking their first steps. It’s incredible to witness the little ones learning and growing, but it’s easy to overlook the minor changes. These minor changes are what lead to their walking and talking, they are the skills that build the foundation for words and steps to happen.

We know that each baby is different and develops at their own pace, so maybe not every single one of them will hit that milestone mark at the, “said age.” However, there are still certain skills that a baby should acquire before they reach that milestone. Some children might need some extra help and guidance to gain these skills.

Pre-language skills

Pre-language skills are prerequisites for speech and language. They are a set of skills that should develop alongside one another in both normal developing children and children with language disorders. These skills might not show up in the same order in every toddler, but they will show up before language emerges. These skills are what children use to communicate before they are able to form words. Pre-language skills must be consistently present, and stable in order for the child to be ready to talk.

How will I know if my child is ready to talk?

Lucky for us, Laura Mize, Speech Language Pathologist, has an awesome detailed podcast series that thoroughly describes pre-language skills. She talks about “11 skills a toddler must use before words emerge.” She helps us understand what they are, how to identify them and why they are important.

The pre-language skills mentioned in her podcast are:

  1. Responds to events in the environment: do they notice things around them? Children must be able to process things they hear and see. They must be aware of their surroundings, and react to it.
  2. Responds to people: are they interested in people? Children should interact with people. They’ll respond when you call them by name, or look for you, so you can play with them.
  3. Develops an attention span: attention spans in toddlers are typically 3-6 minutes long. They can notice something and are interested in it. They stay with it for a while and give themselves the chance to see how it works.
  4. Exhibits joint attention: they can share the moment. They can use a toy with you, and shift their attention from the toy to you.
  5. Plays with toys: toddlers learn through play and using toys. Toys are meaningful to them. Do they know how to appropriately play with the toys? For example: rolling a toy car on the ground.
¿Está tu hijo:a preparado:a para hablar? 1
  1. Understands and uses early gestures: Do they communicate with their bodies? Can they wave bye-bye, nod yes or no, follow a point?
  2. Understands early words and follows simple directions: Do they recognize names of familiar people or things they use every day? If you say “Where’s dad?” or “Do you want water?” they will understand.
  3. Vocalizes: Are they noisy? Toddlers should make intentional and purposeful sounds with their voice, before they can even speak.
  4. Imitate actions, gestures, and words: They copy what you are doing. They use a toy the same way you use it, they clap when you clap.
  5. Initiates interaction: They take the lead to try and get your attention. They want to play with you, they try to get you to look at them or grab something for them.
  6. Turn taking: They are able to play back and forth. They can roll a ball or a car back and forth.

These are the 11 skills a toddler must develop before they start talking. Each one of these skills are essential to language development. Toddlers must have these skills firmly established in order for words to flow.

You can listen to the first part of the podcast clicking here and to the second one clicking here.

How can I help prepare my child for words?

As a parent you know your child best. You know what they are able to do and what they are not. You must be able to identify if these skills are present, consistent and strong in order for language to emerge. If one of these skills is missing, or isn’t strong, those are the skills you need to target and strengthen to prepare your child for words.

Questions we should ask ourselves when trying to determine how to help our children talk:

  • Which of these skills are present in my child? Which aren’t?
  • Which of these skills show up consistently? Which of them only every once in a while?
  • Which of these skills are strong? Which need some extra work?

We must determine which of these skills need reinforcement and which ones need to be introduced. Once we know what to target, we can work with our little ones to prepare them for words.

Should we go to a speech therapist?

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Some people will tell you “don’t worry words will come on their own, he/she is still young”. While that might be true sometimes, that is definitely not always the case. It’s great that you’re getting informed and learning more about how to help your child. You are the expert on your child and know them best, so if you have a gut feeling to seek help, there is no harm in that. The earlier children get the support they need, the better their outcomes.

Pre-language skills play a key role in language development. Children must go through all these skills before they start talking. If our little ones are late talkers, we must look at this list and determine what is missing, and work on those skills with them, or seek help from a speech therapist . It is important for us to not skip any steps that will lead to communication. We don’t want to push for words when our little ones aren’t ready yet. We need to set them up for success, by giving them the tools they need for language. Once we attain these eleven skills, we can focus on speaking words.

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