May the 4th be with you…

In Blog by Julie

Although I am not a particular Star Wars fan, I do have close family who are (my husband, stepson and brother in law). My husband’s favourite character is Yoda, and his use of word order has always interested me. Yoda uses a word order which does not follow the same typical pattern as that of English, which makes it sound different to us.

In English, we typically use Subject-Verb-Object e.g. the boy (subject) is eating (verb) a pizza (object). This word order differs across languages, as I’m sure you will know if you speak any others as well as English. As it is Star Wars day (4th May) I thought I would use Yoda as inspiration to write about language. It fascinates me that the perception of Yoda’s word order differs depending on the language it has been translated to. Yoda typically uses an Object-Subject-Verb order e.g. “much to learn, you still have”. This word order is not often typical in many international languages. Due to grammar and word order being different across different languages, Yoda’s word order can be perceived differently too as it will be more similar to certain languages than others.

I’m using Yoda as inspiration to think about language and to relate this to the process of learning to talk. I am passionate about being a Speech and Language Therapist and supporting children to develop these skills. Learning to talk is a complex process, therefore, it’s not surprising that some children find it difficult and need some extra help. Children need to have a large vocabulary before they are able to use these words in spoken language as single words, and know even more words before combining them. If you’ve ever learned a second language, you may be able to relate to this in terms of understanding more words than you feel confident to use/say. Also, when on holiday, you may find it easier to use a single word to request something, than, for example, saying a sentence, or asking a question. Children learning their first language have similar experiences.

 Difficulties with language can present in a range of different ways, such as:

  • Starting to talk late
  • Having difficulties joining words together
  • Struggling to think of the correct word
  • Struggling to learn new words
  • Finding it difficult to put words in the correct order
  • Missing key words from sentences
  • Difficulty sequencing ideas
  • Difficulty re-telling stories and events
  • Understanding and using language appropriately (e.g. pragmatics and social skills)

Speech and Language Therapists can help with all of these difficulties (and more!) to support the development of a child’s language skills. There are also things that parents can do at home to help further develop a child’s speech and language.

Ways to help:

  • Model language – children learn best from hearing good language models. This is most effective when they are focused on something they are interested in. Adults can comment on what the child is looking at, or doing. For example, ‘the ball is rolling’, ‘baby is drinking’, ‘teddy is sleeping’. This is much more useful than asking questions such as ‘what’s she doing?’ or ‘what’s that’ – as this requires a response. The most effective way for a child to learn new language is to feed it to them.
  • Extend – when your child says a word or a phrase, repeat it back to them and extend it. For example, child: ‘juice’, adult: ‘more juice’, or child: ‘big ball’, adult: ‘big ball rolling’
  • Explore words – children need to learn about the sounds in words as well as the meanings to help them to store them in the ‘dictionary’ in their head (their lexicon). For example, the word ‘cat’ will be stored with animals/pets as well as words that sound the same such as ‘mat’. This filing system develops all of the time and we can help children to strengthen the links between words by exploring them further e.g. by clapping syllables, thinking of words that rhyme or thinking of words that mean something similar.

As children get older and their vocabulary expands, continue to teach them new words in context. Comment on activities using alternative words e.g. cut/chop or wash/clean.

Specific therapy approaches can be used to help children with difficulties that they may have with language. For example, Colourful Semantics is a therapy approach which is used to help children with expanding sentences and using the correct word order. It uses a structured approach to teach the different elements of sentences e.g. subject-verb-object and adds other elements such as location and time. For further information and resources, check out the Colourful Semantics Resources section of our website.

If you are concerned about your child’s language development, please feel free to contact me for a free chat to discuss your concerns.