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Help for the late talkers

The title of Lewisham Borough Council's latest publication says it all: Helping Children to Talk. That such a guide is necessary, in itself speaks of the growing number of children starting school with "language delay".

"What we're seeing is a growing number of pupils having to be referred to speech therapists because they don't have the speaking and listening skills we all tend to take for granted," says Karen Feeney, director of Lewisham's Literacy 2000 project. "It does seem that the children aren't being stimulated at home."

The guide, for teachers and other education professionals, presents clear and straightforward advice and information about children's language development and how to help it along. It explains how teachers can help children with language delay early, before it hinders their ability to learn, and spells out the rate at which children's language skills should develop. For instance:

* by six months most children laugh, gurgle, coo and react to sounds;

* by 10 months most say "mama" and "dada", are able to shout and make a sequence of sounds; and

* (by one year, children will recognise their own names and understand "no".

The publication tells teachers that young children with language delay need an increased emphasis on:

* listening to stories in small groups

* the use of story props and puppets to support interest in an understanding of stories

* playing games in small groups

* adult involvement in imaginativ e play

* support from adults who listen and provide models of speech.

It lists strategies which have been found to be helpful. for instance:

* giving commentary of the child's play and activity, showing an interest in what the child is doing, helping the child to understand more about the chosen topic

* allowing the child to question, giving explanations

* expanding, paraphrasing and clarifying the child's intended meaning.

The following are "less helpful":

* over-use of open questions, such as "what did you do at the weekend?"

* asking for information which the adult already possesses (what colour is your T-shirt?)

* asking the child to imitate a correct sentence or correcting faulty pronunciation ("frog, not shog")

*talking for the child rather than giving him or her a chance to respond.

Diane Hofkins

Helping Children to Talk is available from Lewisham Education's Professional Development Centre, price #163;8 including pp. Copies from Beverley Johnson, Literacy 2000 administrator, 0181 291 5005

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