To each his own pace

To each his own pace
The pace of language development is different for each child. Some children are just more inclined to talk.

The pace of language development is different for each child. “Genetics certainly play a role,” says Dr. Cousineau. “Some children are just more inclined to talk, while others prefer to move. Parents who are more verbal generally have children who talk more.” That said, even within the same family, there can be noticeable differences. “Cedric took a bit more time to talk than his sister. I think he talks less because he’s a boy,” explains Isabelle, Léa, Cédric, Félix and Rémi’s mother.

“Until about 30 months old, girls have a wider vocabulary and speak in more complete sentences than boys,” says Caroline Bouchard, a psychologist and early childhood education professor at Université de Laval who led a study on language among 1,000 Quebec children in 2007. She notes, however, that after 30 months old, these differences disappear.

There are two reasons for this: one is biological and the other, social. Certain parts of a girl’s brain develop more quickly, making it easier for her to acquire language. With regards to socio-cultural factors, researchers believe that parents tend to speak more to their daughters than to their sons. Certain types of toys, such as dolls, also foster the acquisition of verbal skills. However, the differences between girls and boys with regards to language development remain a topic of debate within the scientific community.

Children develop language mostly through the stimulation and conversation opportunities found within their family environments.

Certain characteristics that are unique to your child, including his temperament, also influence his development. Intelligence, however, is not necessarily a factor. “There are many facets to intelligence. Some children may have an above-average non-verbal intelligence, but not say a word,” explains Dr. Cousineau.

“Daily exposure to language and varied experiences also influence development,” adds speech therapist Isabelle Meilleur. This is why the family plays a crucial role in providing rich stimulation.

“It was important for me to give my children opportunities to learn how to express themselves without fear of judgment,” explains Sophie, mother to Maxinne, Romain and Léandre. “We spoke to our kids a lot from a very young age. Road trips, family suppers and story time all provide good opportunities to talk. We also take care to use proper language.”

Tips to help your child talk
From birth:
  • Describe both his and your daily activities to him.
  • Sing him songs.
  • Repeat the sounds he makes.
  • Talk to him a lot, slowly and clearly.
  • Pause often to give him time to react.

When he starts talking:
  • Show him that you’re interested in what he’s saying.
  • Get down to his level and look him in the eyes.
  • Help him find the words he needs or ask him questions. For example: “Do you want water or milk?” Or: “Where’s daddy?”
  • Add more information to what he says. If he says “truck,” for example, you could answer: “Yes, a big truck.”

As he progresses:
  • Ask him to tell you about an event from his day.
  • Role-play with him.
  • Play with toy figures (little characters) that you make talk.
  • Play riddles or board games.

If he’s having difficulty:
  • Offer a model. Take your child’s message and reformulate it correctly, adding the missing words or correcting the pronunciation. For example: if your toddler says, “cookie, floor,” you can answer: “Yes, THE cookie FELL on the floor.”
  • Don’t ask your child to repeat. This could dampen his desire to communicate if he’s afraid of saying a word or sentence incorrectly. It’s better to encourage him and applaud his effort.
  • Don’t make fun of him if he makes a mistake.
  • Congratulate him when he expresses himself well, or at least, tries to.

Books help your child develop language skills since they let you repeat the same words often and associate these words to pictures, which helps your child understand them.

Concerned about your child’s language development?

If your child shows signs of language difficulty, you should seek professional advice immediately. A doctor or CLSC worker will be able to refer you to speech therapy or audiology services in your area. A speech therapist can assess your toddler and suggest strategies to stimulate his language, if necessary. The audiologist assesses and treats hearing problems. If your child still has difficulty despite these measures, he may be directed towards more specialized services in a rehabilitation centre. A team of professionals will then help your toddler develop to his full potential. Don’t hesitate to seek advice as soon as you feel concerned, because the wait time for these services can sometimes be long.

Some signs to watch for:

  • From 0 to 6 months: Your child doesn’t react to loud noises or when you speak to him.
  • Between 6 and 12 months: He makes little or no sounds. He doesn’t answer to his name.
  • Between 12 and 18 months: He doesn’t seem to want to communicate; he doesn’t point to anything with his finger and doesn’t imitate you.
  • Between 18 and 24 months: He doesn’t say a word or doesn’t understand those used daily.
  • Between 2 and 3 years: He doesn’t combine words, his vocabulary is progressing slowly or he doesn’t understand simple instructions.
  • At 3 years old: Strangers don’t understand him or he repeats questions instead of answering them.
  • At 4 years old: He needs you to follow a routine to understand your instructions. His sentences do not include certain elements like pronouns (I, you, he) or articles (the, a).
  • At 5 years old: He has a hard time understanding group instructions or cannot recount an event in such a way that makes sense.
  • At any age: He regresses or stutters, and speaking seems very difficult for him.