There are some fantastic school readiness checklists and speech-language programs out there to help you help your child develop the language skills necessary for his or her first day at big school. But what signs of language delay should you look out for after your child has started school?
Of course – disclaimer alert! – children don’t develop in exactly the same way according to a pre-programmed formula (if only!). But here are 7 fairly straightforward things you can listen out for that signal there might be an issue worth looking into:
- Your child doesn’t use correct plurals for common nouns. He/she says dog for dogs, bus for buses, mans for men, childs for children, and sheeps for sheep. Don’t worry about fish/es – a controversial topic at the best of times!
- Your child doesn’t have a good handle on the past tense of common irregular verbs, e.g. if he/she says words like “goed” and “holded” and “broked” and “flied” and “falled”. Although this is a common stage of language development called “overgeneralisation” – the subject of a separate article here – most children have “went”, “held” and “broke”, and “flew” and “fell” down by school.
- Your child can’t rhyme words, count syllables, identify words that begin with the same sound or link sounds to letters of the alphabet. This may indicate a problem with phonological awareness, which is strongly related to later reading development.
- Your child can’t give or follow two-step instructions, e.g. “Put on your shoes after you pack your lunchbox”. This may indicate your child is not processing sentences with complex syntax or applying rules of thumb, like watching what others do or doing things in the order they are said. Of course, it may also indicate your child is ignoring you and testing your patience/limits (something that happens to me with increasing frequency!).
- Your child can’t sort common words by opposites or category. For example, knowing black/white, big/small, up/down, over/under, heavy/light are related words; or that chickens, horses, cows, goats, sheep and ducks are all farm animals, while cars, motorbikes, jets, boats and trains are all forms of transport.
- Your child can’t sit and listen quietly to others. There are a number of possible explanations for this, including possible attention issues or simply – dare I say it? – old-fashioned naughtiness. But it may also signal that your child has problems understanding what others are saying, causing frustration to both listener and speaker.
- Your child can’t re-tell a simple story coherently. As your child goes up the grades at school, he/she will be required to work with what some academic folk call “text types of the narrative genre”, and what almost everyone else calls “stories”. This one is easy to check – simply read your child an age-appropriate bedtime story, then ask him/her to tell it back to you. Does the story make sense? Did your child cover the start, middle, high point and end? Did your child identify the main and supporting characters? Did he/she speak in full, grammatically correct sentences with lots of description and appropriate emotion in his/her voice?
If you spot one or more of these potential issues – DON’T PANIC! It doesn’t necessarily mean your child has a language delay. If there is an issue, there’s a good chance your child’s teacher has spotted it and is working on it with specialist teachers at the school. But if you are worried – particularly if your child ticks more than 3 boxes above, or you have a family history of language problems – don’t hesitate to contact a qualified speech-language pathologist who can assess each of the above language skills (and more) with a comprehensive diagnostic assessment.
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Hi there, I’m David Kinnane.
Principal Speech Pathologist, Banter Speech & Language
Our talented team of certified practising speech pathologists provide unhurried, personalised and evidence-based speech pathology care to children and adults in the Inner West of Sydney and beyond, both in our clinic and via telehealth.