In this age of instant messaging, texts and tweets, it's tough to teach children to use complete words, let alone complete sentences. You can help your child become an articulate, confident speaker by starting when they are very young and exposing them to a variety of written and oral communications styles. If you've ever studied a foreign language, you know that one of the most effective ways to learn new words is to say them, use them in different contexts and repeat them often. The same approach applies when you're teaching your child to speak articulately.
1. Talk to Your Child
Take advantage of daily opportunities to improve your child's vocabulary and speaking ability. Introduce words relevant to what's going on around him. Tell him what the words mean and how to use them. More importantly, talk to your child regularly so he learns the importance of oral communication. Sure, a toddler can grunt and point when he wants water, but encourage him to learn the words to ask for it, and positively reinforce it when he does. Teaching your child manners and phone etiquette also provides opportunities to encourage him to speak in complete, coherent sentences.
2. Read, Read, Read
Parents who read to their infants are already helping them associate words with establishing personal connections to others. Continue reading to your child, gradually shifting to reading together, then to having her read to you. Gently correct her when she misuses or mispronounces words to help her improve her speaking skills. Encourage her to read aloud to you and others, then applaud her efforts. Even a very young child might enjoy "reading" to her dolls or stuffed animals. Set up a family reading time each evening, during which children read aloud from a book or newspaper article, then have a short conversation about what the author is trying to convey.
3. Play Word Games
If you have a child who dreads reading or is uncomfortable speaking in front of others, use alternative ways to encourage his use of language. Play spelling or word games based on word searches or crossword puzzle type activities. Ask him to make up new words for certain items or scenarios, using language that evokes what he's describing. Give him a word and ask him for synonyms and antonyms and help him make up funny sentences to use his new vocabulary. Select a vocabulary-building software game for your computer lover or order a magazine for a non-reader that appeals to his other interests -- youth sports magazines for your athlete, for example.
4. Broad Exposure
Give your child opportunities to hear and "see" words in action. Take her to age-appropriate drama presentations or story hour at the library. Older children can watch news or public affairs programs with you, then discuss them. They also might enjoy plays that feature well-spoken characters. Expose them to famous speeches, including those by Winston Churchill, Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King, so they have the opportunity to understand the power of language and why using it correctly can be so effective. Take them to a city council meeting or political debate so they can experience how to persuade others with language.
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