Language is one of the most important skills we will ever learn. Everything we do at home or work requires us to communicate with our families, friends and colleagues. Without language it is incredibly difficult to share our thoughts and feelings with others, to make lasting friendships, to give and receive information and to learn about the world in which we live.
The ability to use and understand language is essential for all children too. Children learn language in such a short space of time and this is why the pre-school years are so crucial - with parents and early years workers playing a vital role in encouraging children's communication development.
Problems with speech and language are the most common developmental difficulty that children encounter. Studies indicate that as many as 1 in 10 children in the UK have speech and language difficulties, and these are particularly prevalent in the early years.
Language is central to learning, but a study by the Basic Skills Agency (in 2002) reported that - in the opinion of teachers - 50% of children begin school lacking skills that are vital for getting off to a good start in education.
But what types of speech and language problems do children suffer from – and what can grown-ups do to help?
- Understanding spoken language
Children may have difficulty with understanding the meaning of words and concepts. They may have problems following instructions, understanding games and tasks, and making sense of what is being said to them. Often children with these difficulties may appear to understand as they may be getting clues from following other children or guessing from the context. However, they may also come across as 'difficult' simply because they do not fully understand what is being said.
- Spoken language
Children may have problems with using language. They may have difficulty with words or sentence structure. They may struggle to express themselves in play and activities or tell people how they feel.
- Speech sound production
Children may have problems with the intelligibility of their speech - they may have a reduced number of sounds available to them and difficulty making particular sounds in simple or longer words. They may not be easy to understand when they speak or reluctant to speak for fear of not being understood.
- Attention and listening
Many children who have speech and language difficulties have problems with listening to spoken language (often when their hearing is okay). They have difficulty concentrating on a task and listening to adult instructions.
- Social skills
Children's development of social skills, their sense of self and others, and their ability to form relationships and learn can all be affected by speech and language problems.