Children’s language development depends on ample meaningful language experiences with peers and adults. These experiences allow children opportunities to express themselves and be understood. When educators and parents provide these opportunities they support children’s language development. Understanding typical language trajectories allows educators to anticipate children’s language needs and enrich language environments accordingly.
It is also important to understand differences in the developmental trajectories. Children who are English Language Learners might have some initial delays as they navigate a silent period of receptive language before becoming more expressive/productive. Home language retention and multilingualism results in cognitive gains and maintains important cultural ties. Children who are deaf and/or hard of hearing may have language delays depending on the severity of the hearing loss and the type and timing of intervention. All children with hearing loss benefit from social play opportunities as this strengthens productive language. Children who have autism may struggle with receptive and expressive language. Nonverbal cues may be particularly difficult for a child to master. Early intervention is helpful, not only for language development itself, but for the social transactions that take place. Shared conversations help to elicit growth in listening, speaking, and nonverbal communication. Assisted technology can help to bridge the gap when children need communication support.
Intentional educators promote children’s language development by attending to children’s individual differences, remaining culturally responsive, providing context and environmental supports, and using adaptive technologies that enhance children’s engagement. Children have a desire to communicate and a right to be understood. Language in its many forms allows this process to unfold.