5 free ways to boost your child's communication skills

Mother and daughter talking
Reading and writing are vital to your child’s education, but developing their oral language skills will also boost their confidence with words and expand their vocabulary. Make a difference to their literacy success from today!

The way your child speaks and listens makes a big difference to their chance of success from a very early age. Help them learn to express themselves fluently and with confidence in five simple ways, recommended by Alison Marrs, professional advisor for The Communication Trust.

1. Create the right speaking and listening environment

“Children need a quieter environment than adults to listen and learn in, so be aware that even it does not seem noisy to you, it may be for your child,” says Alison. “Have times during the day when there is no background noise, and always do this when engaging in a specific activity with your child (a game, reading, homework, etc.).

“This is not to say that you should never have the TV on. Research, however, shows that for children to listen and learn from TV, adults need to view it alongside them to spark conversation.”

2.  Comment more, question less

“Adults are naturally keen to lead conversations, and to test children’s knowledge. But research shows that frequent parental use of directive and corrective statements – for example, questions and command giving – has been linked with delays in children's language development,” explains Alison.

“Of course we all naturally ask questions, but if we do it too often it can have a negative effect. Instead, try to open up a chat with a comment, such as: ‘Look, it’s a bird!’ as opposed to asking, ‘What’s that?’ See how your child responds.”

3. Use open-ended questions

“This doesn’t necessarily mean that questioning is to be avoided,” Alison continues. “Research into the use of open-ended questions with school children – that, for example, start with ‘What could we do....?’, ‘Can you find a way to.....?’ – has shown they can support learning and develop creative thinking and problem solving skills. This is compared to closed questions such as, ‘What is the capital of France?’ which needs a one-word answer only.

“An example to try at home is, when wrapping a present, putting a large present on a small piece of wrapping paper and saying, ‘This won’t work. What can we do instead?’

4. Give children time to answer a question

“Often children need extra time to understand a question and think of their answer,” Alison says. “Instead of jumping in to help them answer, count to 10, and wait to see if your child answers. You will often be surprised by the results!”

5.  Have fun with words!

“A child’s vocabulary is fundamental to their learning. Research shows that vocabulary size at five years of age has links to later successes, such as literacy skills and academic achievement,” says Alison.

“When talking or reading with your child, check word understanding and support word learning by talking about word meaning and sounds. This helps them to learn and recall words. For example, ask about: a word’s first sounds; rhyming words; syllable number; what you do with the word; where you find it; what it looks, feels or tastes like; what group (category) it belongs to and what else belongs to this group.”

The Communication Trust’s Hello campaign encourages schools to run a No Pens Day to support oral language skills.

Information and resources on communication development are available from Hello and Talking Point.