How to Help Your Child Talk and Grow Smarter: Learning Two Languages

Parents used to feel anxious about allowing their babies to learn two languages at once, for fear it would damage their language skills in the long term. Those days have gone. Happily, for our global society, the weight of evidence now shows that bilingual children are at an advantage in many ways over their monolingual peers.

Babies who hear two languages or more, before and soon after birth, become skilled at choosing the right brain tool for intellectual tasks. As they continue through life, maintaining their skill in two languages, they even have some protection from the onset of Alzheimers. They can stave off the start of the brain disease for up to five years, according to York University, Toronto, with their improved language tools.

Active brain
Your brain stays nimble and works harder when you speak two languages, building up “cognitive reserve”. In other words, you need to use it or lose it. The more languages you speak, the more protection your brain gains against the disease. If you stop using both languages, your brain loses the advantage.

Babies who hear and see more than one language in their first months are able to attend carefully. Research carried out in McGill University, Montreal, and the University of British Colombia shows that babies of a few months already recognize features of both languages, such as the segmentation of words and the differences in facial expression of the speaker. These skills are important in developing language skills, and learning them while young gives those lucky babies a head start.

Early skills
Babies and young children learn both languages simultaneously, and switch easily from one to the other. Some speak one language with their mother and another with their father, while others manage one language at home and another when at nursery or preschool.

Language learning takes place most rapidly between birth and 3 years or age. Children continue to learn until 10 or 12 years, but after that time find it harder to learn new languages. Feral children, deprived of communication in their early years, find it impossible to catch up completely, and spend their lives disadvantaged by poor language skills.

The message to parents is clear. If your child has access to more than one language, take advantage of the opportunity to help your child talk in both and encourage extra brain activity.

If your baby only hears one language, introduce a new one well before he reaches 10 years of age, preferably even before he’s 3 years old.

You may be too old to pick it up a new skill as easily as your child does, but it’s worth learning a second language yourself. You’ll keep your mind as active as you can, to give yourself as much protection as possible against later brain problems.

Further Information

How to Help Your Child Talk and Grow Smarter:Amazon Kindle eBook: 2011National Geographic: Bilingual Babies: 2009

School of Communication Sciences & Disorders, McGill University, Montreal: Word segmentation in monolingual and bilingual infant learners of English and French: Linda Polka & Megha Sundara

Science Now: An Infants Refine Tongue: 2011

Royal Society: Brain Waves Module Two: Neuroscience: Implications for Education and Lifelong Learning: 2011

How to Help Your Child Talk and Grow Smarter: Early Learning Matters

Children who talk well do better in life. Language skill opens the door to success, and communication difficulties make life harder. As a parent, you want your child to become a successful person, and by helping his language development you can give him the language tools to smooth his path.

Youth offending
One shocking fact is that 70 percent of young offenders in England and Wales have a communication difficulty, according to a recent report for the Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists, while 10 percent of the entire population have a communication problem.

Brain research
The Royal Society, in its report, “Brain Waves Module Two: Neuroscience: Implications for Education and Lifelong Learning”, makes it clear that the early years of life are important for rapid development in a baby’s brain. While changes to the brain continue throughout life, there are critical periods when a child develops language skills more easily than at any other time.

The report also highlights the importance of self-control in our lives. A child of three who resists the temptation to eat a sweet straight away, because he knows he will be rewarded for his self-control by receiving two sweets, may well achieve more in later life.

A recent study by the University of California shows that babies use the same brain areas as adults to process words, suggesting that maybe a child’s understanding of words begins even earlier than we thought.

How to help
Improve your child’s life chances by offering the best possible environment for learning self-regulation and language development. Your child will benefit from:
• a regular routine, where she feels confident and secure,
• quiet times during the day to avoid over-stimulation,
• plenty of sleep to let her brain deal with the new things she sees every day,
• parents or carers who smile, talk to and cuddle her.

Some children find it difficult to learn language, speech and communication skills. Check your child’s progress regularly to make sure he learns language at a reasonable speed. If you have concerns, speak to your health professional as soon as possible. A speech therapist can tell whether he’s on the right track and she will advise you on how to help him.

If you’d like to know more about how to help your child talk and grow smarter, take a look at this Kindle eBook.

How to Help Your Child Talk and Grow Smarter: Check His Progress

The first 3 years of your child’s life are filled with rapid language development and learning. Keep an eye on how he’s doing. Be aware of the progress he’s making, and check from time to time that he’s moving forward.

Use this checklist to make sure your child’s language skills keep developing in line with other children of his age. If you’re worried about his progress, talk to your healthcare practitioner, whether it’s a health visitor or a GP. They should refer you to a speech and language therapist who can carry out an assessment to see how your child is getting on, looking in detail at his progress.

Up to one in 10 children have difficulty with learning language skills, and this can cause problems. Children with language problems find it harder to make friends, to learn to read and to make the most of their education. Use your child’s early years to give him a head start.

At 3 months
Loud noises startle your child.

He gives his first social smiles, especially when he hears his mother’s voice. These are ‘real’ smiles, with eye contact that sets them apart from the smiles of a tiny baby.

He copies some of the sounds you make.

He turns when he hears a noise.

He imitates some of your facial movements, such as sticking out his tongue when he sees yours. This reaction takes a few seconds, so give him plenty of time.

At 6 months
He turns when you say his name, recognising it.

He watches your face intently when you talk to him.

He makes many different sounds, not all of them recognisable as sounds from English.

He puts a series of sounds together as ‘babble’.

He recognises emotions from your tone of voice, and may respond when you say ‘no’.

He shouts, gurgles and coos, enjoying his own noises.

At 1 year
He may become clingy and cry for his parents when they leave, as he recognises they are different from strangers and are important to him.

He finds hidden objects, when he’s seen you hide them, even when they’re completely out of sight.

He recognises a picture of an object and looks at it when you say its name.

He clearly understands and responds to ‘no’.

He uses simple gestures, such as shaking his head or waving “bye-bye”.

He may say ‘da da’ or “ma ma” with meaning.

He may copy words you say.

At 2 years
He concentrates hard on what he’s doing and ignores everything else.

He becomes excited to be with other children.

He tries pretend play.

He points to named objects.

He says several words and 2 word phrases.

He follows instructions of 2-3 words.

He knows the names of body parts and many objects.

At 3 years
He listens to what you say, but is easily distracted.

He starts to take turns in games.

He separates from his parents without becoming too disturbed.

He enjoys routine and becomes upset at sudden changes.

He enjoys pretend play.

He knows dozens of words for common objects.

He uses 3-4 word sentences, but with immature grammar.

He can say his own name.

Many of his words are understandable, but he makes plenty of mistakes.

At 4 years
He stops what he’s doing to listen to what you say.

He plays cooperatively with other children.

He becomes far more independent.

He knows some colours and numbers.

He can retell parts of a story.

He speaks clearly enough for strangers to understand him.

He uses 4-5 word sentences, though still makes grammar errors.

At 5 years
He can listen while he carries on with his activity.

He enjoys his friends and copies their behaviour.

He sings and dances.

He understands some time concepts.

He uses a range of past and future tenses.

He can tell stories.

This article comes from How to help your child talk and grow smarter. If you’d like to read more, check out the Kindle eBook here.

Build Your Own Communication Kit 6: How to banish guilt through positive thinking

“I should have visited my mother more often.” “I ought to have worked harder for my exam.” “I must spend more time helping my child with his homework.”

When you want to beat yourself up, there’s no better way than telling yourself all the things you “ought to” do or “should have” done. These phrases express a sense of obligation and correctness and when you use them you feel that you’re not doing the best you can.

“Should” and “ought” encourage feelings of guilt. You may spend far too much time feeling guilty. Lessen that guilt by changing the way you think.

Internal dialogue
You, like all of us, have an internal dialogue running through your head. You may be aware of it constantly, or just occasionally. You use it to rehearse things you plan to do or say, and to relive past events.

The language you employ during that conversation reflects how you feel about yourself and reinforces those feelings. It perpetuates any feelings of worthlessness, of failing to come up to scratch, of being less good than all those other perfect people who, you imagine, would have done the things you “should” have. It feels as though you have a nagging critic constantly telling you how far you’ve fallen short.

Those weasel phrases hold up a distorted mirror to your face. In that mirror, you see the reflection of someone who has failed to be perfect. You take away that picture, imagining it to be the real you.

Adjust the dialogue
Break in to this vicious circle. Remember you have charge of your thoughts. You can change your internal conversation with yourself to make it positive. Instead of thinking, “I should have said ‘no’ to that slice of cake,” say, “I enjoyed that cake. I will choose to have an apple instead of dessert tonight so that I continue to maintain my diet.”

Take responsibility for your actions.

Notice how rarely you do things simply because you feel you “ought”. If you do, you probably feel miserably resentful. You usually do things because you think the outcome will be worth the effort in some way.

When you find yourself using the “ought” or “should” words, take a moment to consider just why you believe you should be doing something. Maybe you actively want to do well in your exam, or make your mother happy.

Decide what outcome you want, so you take the appropriate actions. You can decide not to do something, and take the consequences. If you fail to study, for example, you may fail the exam. How much does that matter to you? Only you can decide.

Concentrating on the outcome of your actions, not on the actions themselves, gives you permission to decide not to do things. Imagine being at your mother's funeral. How will you feel then if you look back and know you visited her? How will you feel if you decide not to visit? You may decide that she is asking for an unreasonable commitment from you, that will not improve her life or yours in the long term. You may decide to be firm and say “no”.

Make sure you think carefully about the eventual outcome of your action, so that you choose it through logical thought, not a vague, guilty feeling that you “ought” or “should”.

Learn from the past
As you replay past events in your head, you may decide an outcome was less good than you hoped. For example, you may have given a public presentation and stumbled over your words, dropped your notes and tripped down the stairs. You feel bad. You feel guilty: that you let people down. You may think you “ought” to have spoken more slowly, tied the notes together and held the banister of the stairs.

This is hindsight talking.

You did your best according to the resources you had available at the time. It was your first presentation. You did not know how much practice you needed. Perhaps you were surprised at how nervous you felt.

Next time, you have additional resources at your disposal because of your experience. You know how you may feel, so you can prepare yourself more effectively. Make a plan. Practice slower speech and learn your notes by heart. Arrange not to walk down stairs, or practice going more slowly.

Increase your stock of resources for the next time and work towards a better outcome.

Your child’s dialogue
Help your child learn more mature ways of making decisions. She builds her internal conversation habits on the way she feels about herself, just as you do. Help her to think positively so that she understands and learns from mistakes while keeping a healthy regard for herself.

If she is rude to an adult, for example, rather than telling her she “should” or “must” be polite, point out that her behaviour was a mistake. Show her the consequences. It put her in a bad light. You are cross with her and the adult thinks she is ignorant and stupid. She may sacrifice a treat because of her behaviour.

Help her to see that behaviour that is more acceptable, leads to a better outcome, so she learns to make sensible decisions based on reality, not guilt.

Ten Best Human Communication Websites

Sites that offer advice on human communication often specialise. Some aim at communication in the workplace, or leadership. Some deal with personal development or NLP (Neuro Linguistic Programming). Others offer advice on talking to children. Here’s my selection.

BBC website  
There’s good, solid information here on talking to children in its health section. The information’s brief and accurate: well worth a visit.

Family Education
If you need advice on talking to your child about difficult topics, like drug or alcohol abuse, you’ll find this site offers many solutions. If you just want to know more about talking to kids, especially those teenagers who communicate in grunts, you’ll find that too.

Communication Skills Power Blog
This blog has been around for a while, and as a result there’s a long list of posts full of useful information. Follow this advice and you’ll soon be a communication expert. It’s not too easy to read, though, as the text is very closely written and I do dislike blogs that hit you with a pop-up “send for this” page. Please wait until we’ve read something interesting before assuming we like your products.

The Communication and Conflict Website
This site specialises in conflict resolution and sets out a series of principles of communication, such as “challenge the behaviour and not the person.” If you’re interested in workplace communication, this is well worth a visit.

The Communication Blog
This has interesting information on self-esteem and there’s a fascinating post on cultural communication differences. Another post advises on how to avoid asking impolite questions, like ‘How come you never had children?’

This blog aims at developing leadership, which as we all know, depends heavily on communication skills. I especially like “The Lost art of Brevity” post. The pages focus on business aspects: but then, why not apply big business principles to daily life if they work?

NLP Blogs
This is a 2-for-the-price-of-one selection. If you’re interested in NLP, here’s a post that lists 10 NLP blog sites. It’s written by Andy Smith, whose own site is at There’s a lot of “NLP” speak in all of these: but I’m an NLP Practitioner myself and I suggest you stick with it if you’re interested in better communication. There are real nuggets in all these posts.

997 ways to be a great speaker
I’m sorry to say I haven’t counted, but I found plenty of useful information here, specific to public speaking. Suggestions on how to put humour into your speech, like how to be prepared to deliver “impromptu” stories: for example, keep a bunch of index cards about your person, with story prompts. Maybe I’ll try that one.

People Communication
This blogger understands technology, likes explaining social media and has some good posts on the difference between email, phone and face-to-face communication. There are even some listening practice steps. Bridge the gap between human and techie communication here.

Speech Contacts
This is my own site. Well, I like it. Youi'll find posts about better communication to help the world go round in the occasional “Build your own Communication Kit” entries. There are writers’ tips and plenty of specifics on children’s speech and language. There's also a free iHappiness iPhone app for download if you click on the bird.

If your site has information on improving communication, please leave the address in the “comments” and I’ll come and visit you.

Build Your Own Communication Kit 5: How to avoid the unscrupulous salesman’s language traps

When money seems short and times feel tough, you want to avoid handing over your hard-earned cash to clever salesmen and cold callers. Learn some of the tricks of their trade. See how they use language patterns and non-verbal signals to encourage you to agree with them, and use your own techniques to stay in command. When you know what he’s trying to do, you can decide whether you want to go along with him or not.

Your salesman designs his first step to build rapport with you. He wants to make a friendly relationship, to encourage a feeling that the two of you have something in common. His attempt may be clumsy. A cold caller who asks, “How are you today?” relies on your good manners and expects you to offer him an answer that engages the two of you in conversation. Cut the conversation dead at this point by shutting the door or pressing,“end call”.

More subtle attempts at rapport building include admiration of your baby, a request for help or a short anecdote about something that just happened outside. A clever salesman tends to be someone with a genuine interest in people. He stands just the right distance away from you, makes eye contact, smiles a little but not too much and nods agreement as you speak. He makes you feel comfortable.

Your salesman matches his dress and grooming to fit with his customer group. When he sells DVDs to teens he wears gel on his hair. When he targets fifty-something women he aims to dress like their husband, bringing out his M and S jumpers. He picks up on the interests you reveal, so if you talk about your school age child, he has a nephew, son or friend’s son with the same issues. He notices your language use. If you use particular words or phrases, he’ll echo them back to you in his own sentences.

He agrees with what you say. Your observations on the weather, politics or TV give him the opportunity to learn about you and adapt his conversation to you. He knows that the more comfortable you feel in his company, the more you want to please him by buying his product.

He may use verbal techniques. Researchers count up to seven separate intellectual processes involved in understanding the apparently simple “it was raining, wasn’t it?” structure. Anne Graffam Walker, in her Handbook on Questioning Children - A Linguistic Perspective (2005) explains how, amongst other things, you have to recognise the distinction between the two parts of the sentence, notice where the negative is located and realise that it does not affect the other clause in the sentence. No wonder you feel inclined to agree with him when he says, “You wouldn’t expect such a good finish for this price, would you?”

Your salesman gets you nodding along with him, encouraging you to agree with him that his product meets your needs, is good value and promises good service, before he suggests you try it and buy it.

Assert yourself
You have choices throughout any conversation with a salesman. Sometimes you choose to cut the contact short, ignoring his puppy-dog eyes. You can go along with him, enjoying the conversation but keeping the magic words, “No, thank you,” ready for use, or you can agree and give him a sale if you want his product. Make your “no” sound positive. Avoid letting your voice rise uncertainly at the end of the word, as he’ll hear that as a sign that you may not be sure you mean “no.”

Beware of using “I need to ask my wife,” or “I’ll come back tomorrow,”  to get rid of him. Your salesman has a wide range of responses ready, many designed to persuade you to hand over your phone number or address or agree to a trial with an "easy" return process.

Remember the salesman is doing his job. He may not be your friend, as he’d like you to think, but he’s not usually a criminal either. Stay polite but firm if you walk away, shut the door or put down the phone.

Never part with any money at the door unless you know exactly where it will go.

Share your experiences by leaving a comment below.

How to help your child talk and grow smarter: early language development non-verbal communication and signing

Charles Darwin recognised, back in 1872, that humans and animals show emotion through their gestures. More recently, in 1971, Albert Mehrabian published his book “Silent Messages”, suggesting that as little as 7 percent of communication relies on words. The rest depends on body language, gesture, facial expression and tone of voice. Although your baby has no real words until 12 to 18 months of age, he communicates constantly, practising many of the non-verbal skills that will smooth his path in life, as an effective communicator.

Early communication
Your newborn baby immediately communicates with you, through non-verbal crying. By the time he reaches 3 years of age, he talks in small sentences. As he makes that speedy language development journey, he combines developing motor skills with his growing intellect and social awareness to communicate. He interacts with you, his family and his widening circle of friends in any way he can find.

His first, hugely successful cries have you running towards him at top speed to feed, change or cuddle him. Every baby’s loud, shrill screams have an instant effect on his parents. Breast-feeding mothers find their milk flowing as soon as they hear them.

He notices your voice within days and soon turns towards you when you speak to him. Your words mean nothing to him at this stage but he notices whether your voice is loud of soft, angry or loving. He makes eye contact with you, learning the valuable lesson for life that non-verbal communication builds human relationships. His first social smile appears at around 3 months.

Your baby’s vocalisations begin to change. He coos with happiness and shouts with displeasure, but his first words remain a few months in the distance. In the meantime, he tries out different sounds, babbling happily in strings of nonsense sounds.

At around 6 to 9 months, he transfers objects from one hand to the other. He learns to wave “bye bye” and clap his hands. Parents sometimes like to introduce a few baby signs at this stage, such as simple signs for “eat”, “drink” and “more”. One or two small studies, described in Dr Marilyn Daniels’ “Dancing With Words”,suggest that babies who use signing show an increase in their measured IQs at the age of 8.

However, The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) website points out that little research into the long-term benefits of baby signing exists. ASHA suggests that the IQ difference between babies whose parents use signing and other babies may be due to genetic and environmental advantages from the babies’ parents.

The Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists in the UK advises that signing parents should always combine the signs with the spoken word.

Whether you teach specific signs to your baby or not, he recognises your non-verbal behaviour. He knows when you are anxious or stressed, and responds by becoming fractious. By the end of his first year, he may become anxious when you leave him, because he recognises your unique place in his life. He continues to use eye contact, tone of voice and gestures such as shaking his head to communicate with you. He may say his first word, and his non-verbal skills continue to develop during the rest of his early years.

“The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals”; Charles Darwin; 1872

“Silent Messages”; Albert Mehrabian; 1971

“Dancing With Words”; Dr Marilyn Daniels; 2001

“SLTs Say Baby Signing Programmes are Not Necessary for Most Children”; RCSLT press release; 27 October 2003

The ASHA Leader; “About Baby Signing”; Brenda Seal; 2010

Ir you'd like to know how to help your child talk and grow smarter, take a peek at this Kindle eBook.

The King’s Speech: how to improve your stammer even if you never broadcast to the nation.

I put off going to see this film for ages. I thought I’d see and hear an unlikely “miracle cure”. I was wrong.

The film moved me to tears. Accurate, realistic and honest, it showed so much truth about stammering.

A staggering one percent of the adult population stammer. Even more, ten percent, of children stammer, but many learn to speak fluently as they grow. The origins of stammering or stuttering (it’s the same thing) are still not understood, and there’s no sure-fire cure. Methods differ, but therapy’s come a long way from Demosthenes and his mouthful of stones.

It’s hard for adults who’ve missed the window of opportunity in childhood, and grown up with a stammer, but you can be hopeful. There’s plenty of help out there.

Sometimes, it seems there are as many methods of treatment as there are clouds in the sky: NLP, McGuire, Delayed Auditory feedback, prolonged speech, stammering fluently, fluent stammering : which to choose?

As Bertie found in the film, you can make a whole bunch of different techniques work together for you.

The common factor for success is your determination to be yourself, not defined by the way you speak. You already feel that determination, don’t you?

It’s possible
Remember, everyone can be fluent sometimes. Maybe you’re fluent when you’re talking to yourself, or to the cat. Maybe you need surround sound to block out feedback from your own voice. Maybe you can talk to friends but not make speeches in public.

If you can speak fluently sometimes, you can build on that. Whatever you want to do, it’s worth persevering. Keep trying.

Mary’s story
Mary stammers. She always has. She talks happily to colleagues, friends and family. Sometimes, though, she has to go to meetings and say her name and job title. As you know only too well if you stammer, that can be a real deal-breaker of a problem.

Mary’s solution was simple. She knew she was an exceptional writer of analytical reports. That’s why she had a job that meant going to meetings with strange and scary people. Those reports meant a lot to her. When she touched one, she felt pride and a warm, peaceful feeling of self worth. She stepped into her success zone the moment she picked up her work.

So one day, off she went to a meeting with new clients. She took one of her reports with her. She sat, scared as ever, waiting for the “round the table” recitation of names. When it was her turn, her heart pumped and her palms sweated, and she picked up her report and read her name out loud, off the front page. She had a little hesitation, but it was her best ever. She felt great.

There are plenty of reasons for this success. Her pride in her work gave her confidence. Touching the report helped her feel successful. Picking up the report was a distraction and let her look away from the other people round the table. She doesn’t really know why it helps, she just knows it works.

Now, she doesn’t take the report with her. She remembers that success story at every meeting, she feels that great feeling, and she knows she can cope.

Her story shows you can deal with even your biggest speaking fear.

Try an experiment for yourself. Think about something you do well, that makes you feel great. Close your eyes, breathe slowly and imagine yourself doing that thing. Watch yourself doing it, and admire your skill. Feel the feeling, and enjoy it.

Then, still breathing slowly, imagine going into a difficult speaking situation, with all those good feelings inside you. See yourself using that feeling of success when you speak. It’s a good feeling. Keep remembering it.

Practice every day, mentally watching yourself and your success. Enjoy seeing and hearing how great you are.

Next time you get into your speaking situation, slow your breathing right down and remember that great feeling of success. See what happens. It’s an experiment, so use the results to learn more and be even greater in future.

Visit the British Stammering Association to find out more, leave a comment on the Speechcontacts blog or subscribe to the mailing list at Speechcontacts and I’ll send you more free info.

I write this Communication Blog

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Frances Evesham: on the run around Europe for years, with only a husband, three children and a succession of opinionated cats to keep me out of trouble. Somerset stopped me in my tracks. Now I walk in the country and breathe sea air. I will get around to cleaning the house soon.

I've been a speech therapist, a professional communication fiend and a road sweeper. I sometimes work in the criminal courts to uphold fair questioning of people with special needs.

I smell the roses, lavender and rosemary as I cook with a glass of wine in one hand and a bunch of chillies in the other. Writing historical romances and books on communication leaves enough time to enjoy bad jokes and puns and wish I’d kept on with the piano lessons.