Bilingual child talking

Talk and the bilingual child: Getting them to speak sooner

For any parent, talking to their child is natural and spontaneous, and something that is done without thinking too much about it. For bilingual children, talk is their biggest tool, and also their biggest challenge when learning to communicate effectively in two languages.

In the education field, there are particular strategies that professionals use to encourage the talk and speech development of any child, and these strategies can easily be deployed in the home environment in order to build confidence and allow your children to practise their newly developed communication skills. Perhaps you already use these strategies without thinking? In any case, it can be fascinating to observe your child’s response to your input, and a real privilege to take an informed role in such an exciting learning experience.

Try the strategies below and let us know how you get on!


Description: You simply repeat what your child has said, correctly, in a positive tone

Reason to use this strategy: There is immense value in repeating a phrase that your child has said – it gives them the confidence that what they have said has been understood correctly, making them more likely to try again with something new. It also gives you a great opportunity to correct any mistakes in a positive way without telling them that they were wrong.


Child: tea?
Adult: Yes, it’s breakfast time – good girl!

Extending and expanding

Description: You repeat your child’s phrase but extend it slightly with new vocabulary.

Reason to use this strategy: By extending a phrase with new vocabulary you consistently provide opportunities for progression. It broadens vocabulary and models correct sentence structure.

Child: Bus
Adult: Yes, red bus

NB it is generally agreed that this technique works best if you add one more word or idea than the child usually uses. If the child says ‘red bus’, the adult might say ‘big, red bus’. Another example could be if the child says ‘park’, the adult could say ‘park later’, or ‘go to the park’.

Talking about your own actions

Description: Describe your actions as you do them – providing a running commentary of what you are doing, your ideas and key vocabulary.

Reason to use this strategy: To model talk without requiring the child to involve themselves – good in a new play situation where child does not have the vocabulary or language skills to talk independently. By repeating key vocabulary you can build confidence even more. The child can absorb the new language and understand it as you are physically showing the child what you are doing alongside your vocal description.

“I think I’ll make a sandcastle in the sandpit. I need to fill up the bucket with sand – I think I need the spade for that. I’m going to fill it up, fill it up, all the way to the top. Now, I’m going to pat it down, smooth the top, and then quickly turn it over – quickly, quickly. Has it worked? Let’s see…Yes, look, a sandcastle!”

Parallel Talk

Description: Parallel talk involves you describing what your child is doing as they play.

Reason to use this strategy: As with your own actions, this strategy models the vocabulary needed for a task, and repetition helps the absorption of key words. The child understands the talk as they are physically doing the actions being described. It is a very positive method of praising and encouraging good play.

“Wow, Jacob, what a big tower you are building! That’s right, put another brick on top. Oh – it’s a yellow brick. Now a red brick, now a blue brick. Look how high it is! Your tower is very high! Oh I see, you’re going to knock it down. One…two…three – down it goes!”


Description: Introduce a new activity by describing it using some of the language the child will need.

Reason: Gives the child a bank of vocabulary to use before they start and therefore encourages them to be more vocal in their play right from the beginning.

“Sophie, so you remember we bought some new paints? Look, there’s lots of different colours – red, green, yellow… We’ll need a paintbrush and some water, and some paper to paint on. I wonder which colour you’ll use first? Have you got your paintbrush? Ok, well dip it into the water and then you can paint!



Image courtesy of Witthaya Phonsawat, /


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