Whether it’s intentional or not, every way you interact with your child contributes to their overall speech and language development. Imitation influences how your child learns to communicate verbally will set them up to be strong communicators at a young age.
In this guide, we will discuss everything you need to know about imitation as a speech improvement technique, how you can use imitation in everyday communication and games at home, and when to seek speech therapy for any speech delays.
What is Imitation?
Imitation is a form of communication technique used to help children learn a language that mirrors and echoes their parents and caregivers. From early infancy, children pick up on the communication techniques that are used when interacting with them. Through imitation, children begin to mimic verbal language, a building block to further their communication and language development. Imitation is not only used for speech; it can include sounds, actions, and facial expressions.
How is Imitation Used to Improve Speech and Language?
Imitation is used to promote expressive language skills by showing children how words connect to actions and behaviors. They begin to associate certain words with specific tasks or things. Imitating parents, caregivers, or anyone else the child may be around can help young children bridge the connection to verbal communication.
Every interaction you have with a child can be used as a lesson in improving speech and language, whether this is intended or not. Imitation is one of the primary ways that children begin their language development, which is why we often speak to children with annunciated, clear words and phrases.
When Does Language Development Begin?
Language development begins even before a child is born. During the third trimester of pregnancy, a fetus can begin to hear sounds and voices, most notably the mother’s voice which they come to recognize immediately after birth as a calming presence. The core years of intense language development occurs up until a child is five years old.
Before the age of one, a child will begin to imitate sounds and even attempt words, while in the toddler years, they begin to solidify their understanding of voice, speech, and language. You can follow and track language development milestones to know if your child is on track or experiencing any delays in speech.
How to Teach Verbal Imitation through Games
Children use mirroring to learn habits, behaviors, and language from their surroundings. When it comes to verbal imitation, you can help your child improve this area of language development through games.
These types of games focus on imitation:
- Copycat: two or more people imitate one person.
- Simon says: one person is the leader, Simon, and is responsible for prompting the audience to do whatever action Simon says
- Follow the leader: a multiplayer game that has a leader, and each follower must do just as the leader does
- Sing-alongs: action songs that include an action such as Itsy-Bitsy Spider
Use positive reinforcement when an action is copied correctly.
Children will often begin to imitate expressions, sounds, and words independently, but when prompted, children can learn more effectively and at a faster pace.
Improving Delay in Speech at Home
If you notice any delays in speech or language developmental issues, consider playing a more proactive role in helping your child improve their speech at home. Here are just a few ways to implement language training into your everyday routines:
- Verbal routines – verbalizing a specific, repetitive action
- Reading – associates pictures with words
- Parallel talk – narrating your child’s actions, behaviors, or movements
- Singing – improves vocabulary and memory
Incorporating these intentional language development practices into your daily routine can improve your child’s speech at home. In some cases, seeking professional assistance in the form of speech therapy may be an option worth exploring. Let’s learn more about knowing when to seek therapy for delays in speech.
How Speech Therapy Can Help
Speech therapy is sometimes a necessary intervention when a child experiences any delays in speech, language development, or a developmental disorder like autism. The primary years for language development begin in early childhood, and early intervention of speech delays is crucial in helping young children become better communicators.
Speech therapy can help to improve several language delays and disorders:
- Pragmatic language disorders
- Childhood fluency disorders
- Speech sound disorders
- Autism spectrum disorder
Receptive and expressive language delays/disorders
Therapy can also provide techniques to deal with the stress of developmental delays, such as delays in speech, and especially those stressors stemming from autism disorder. If your child is currently under the care of ABA, talk to your therapist about if speech therapy is right for them, too.
Finding the Right Speech Pathologist
Whether your child is experiencing issues with verbalizing their actions or an inability to speak full sentences, speech therapy can be an excellent tool to help them improve. When children can effectively communicate with their parents, teachers, and peers, they will have an easier time in academic and social settings.
If your child is experiencing delays in speech or other language development delays, it may be time to consider a speech pathologist’s assistance. At Blossom Children’s Center, we offer two speech therapy groups for toddlers and preschool-aged children to practice and improve their speech and language.
Tips for Toddler Parents
Being a proactive educator in the home all starts with researching and talking to a professional about delays in speech or other developmental delays your child may be experiencing. Learning how to talk doesn’t happen to a child overnight—be patient. Children are more likely to react to positive reinforcement than punishment, so make sure you are encouraging. Lastly, create a nourishing environment at home by openly communicating with and in front of your child, whether that be in the form of narrating, annunciating, and exaggerating your excitement when speaking.
As a parent, you can always learn new things to help your child’s development. Another great way to improve imitation is imitating the actions and sounds your child is doing and copy them. This teaches them to copy you. You can then copy and add- copy what they do and then add a sound or action to see if they copy back If you think speech and language therapy is a good step for your child, it doesn’t hurt to reach out and chat with a professional!