Some children talk like younger children. Some make lots of mistakes when they talk. There are some simple ways we can help them develop their language skills.
Talk to them as often as possible. Talk about what they are doing at that moment. If they are playing, talk about what they are playing with. If you are looking at pictures together, talk about the pictures that catch their eye. If it is dinner time, talk about what they are eating and what their favourite foods are. Use sentences that are the same length as theirs, or a little bit longer. If your child uses 2 to 4-word sentences and you reply using 12-word sentences, they may lose interest! Likewise, you can use new words but not too many at a time.
If they say something, but incorrectly, repeat it back correctly. This way they hear the correct form of what they just said. If they say something correctly, repeat it back to reinforce their good language skills. You can also add a word or two to what they just said, to help them use longer sentences.
If they make the same mistakes often, you can teach them the correct way of saying it by using the structure you want them to use. If they say “he” for “she,” you can make lots of sentences about a female family member using “she.” (“Oh, look! Mom’s home. She is back from work. She looks tired. She looks happy though. She is happy to be home.”) To an adult, this may sound boring and stilted, but to a child it can simplify language enough to make learning to talk a little easier.
To give them the best chance of benefiting from your language models, face them and place yourself at their level. If they are a lot smaller than you, you might put them in a bigger chair and take the small one for yourself. Eliminate background noise, or reduce it as much as possible. Speak a little more slowly and clearly than usual. It is also important to pause often, to allow them to participate in the conversation.
One activity that is especially helpful for language development is looking at photos together, especially photos of events in the child’s life. Most children love looking at themselves and their family! You can label the photos so that they hear a consistent language model each time they look at the photos. When the label gets too simple, you can replace it with more advanced language. One family I know has a blog with lots of photos of events in their life. There are also apps available for tablets such as the iPad that help put photo albums together, such as Story Creator and Pictello. They make it easy to label the photos for consistent language stimulation.
The most important thing about activities for language learning is that they have to be fun. Children learn best when they are enjoying themselves.