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This one is about: Learning the Language

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by Joanne Green

The old joke goes something like this
"I'm sure glad I wasn't born in France,"
"Oh yeah, why is that?"
"Because I don't speak a work of French."

When I was young it was a real knee-slapper. Now the same joke serves to illustrate what many experts agree to be true - that language is an entirely learned behavior. We can only learn to speak that which is spoken around us.

As a parent, then, you will be the most instrumental speech and language teacher your child will ever have. It goes without saying that good speech practice on your part will do a great deal to foster good speech skills in your child. The following are some pointers that will help you to help your child.

1) Encourage language at all times. Help your child to talk about abstract things such as feelings and emotions - things that cannot be held or touched or seen.

2) Don't try to anticipate your child's needs. Encourage him to ask for what he wants or needs.

3) Be a good language role model for your child. Take your time. Speak slowly and clearly. Look at your child when you speak to her. By watching how you make your words she can practice with her own structure.

4) Read to your child. Read to your child. Read to your child. Reading out loud is the single most effective way to encourage and improve verbal skills.

5) Watch your child's favorite TV programs with him and then engage him in a discussion concerning what you watched. The subject matter should interest him, and there's nothing like an interesting subject to stimulate a lively discussion.

6) Let your child feel and know that what he has to say is important. Take the time to listen to him when he talks to you. Don't just listen half-heartedly, while attending to other tasks. At least once every day, take time out to sit with your child, establish and maintain eye contact and LISTEN intently and with genuine interest to what your child wants to say to you.

7) Ask your child questions about her day. Use "open-ended" questions, or questions that cannot be answered with a simple yes or no.

8) Be aware of your child's unique personality. No two children are alike. Every child is distinct. Use your child's uniqueness to encourage language. Some children are more thoughtful, some more active, etc. Remember that while one child responds well to one type of stimulus, another child will respond to something else entirely.

9) Be sure siblings don't contribute to your child's non-expressiveness. Don't let the big sister do all the talking for little brother. Older siblings are especially protective of younger ones and often try to do the talking for one whose verbal skills are weak. Unfortunately, that may help the moment, but in the long run it only teaches the non-expressive child to remain non-expressive.

10) Work closely with your speech and language pathologist. Know what your child is working on in therapy sessions and carry the lessons over at home wherever the natural setting lends itself.

Children born with cleft lip and palate often compensate for their articulation problems by choosing not to talk at all. Language can frustrate them because many people cannot understand what they are saying. But with patience and consistent assistance on your part, before you know it, you'll be going nuts trying to keep up with your little  chatterbox!

------------------------Joanne Green is the mother of three cleft-affected children. She is also the Editor of WIDE SMILES Magazine.

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