Increasing Communication Opportunities for Language Learners

We’ve all been there. Your language learner is indicating they want something. They might be crying, vocalizing, reaching for, or gazing at the item of their desire. As caretakers, we often anticipate their needs and are readily available to help. In this space between their indication and your response, however, is a great language learning opportunity. Our goal is to increase language use by: capitalizing on these organic moments, purposefully creating opportunities for communication, and providing models of language. Here are some helpful tips and tricks used in speech therapy sessions that can be used in the home and out in the community: 


Choice of Two: This is a favorite of mine. It gives your child a sense of control, teaches them how to respond to “This or that” prompts, and requires a form of language to answer. It can also be used anytime, anywhere. Purple or blue? Sky or Chase? Grapes or apples? Bubbles or cars? 

Environmental “Sabotage” and Expectant Pausing: Moments of silence allow space for your child to initiate with you. This is a great one to have a little fun with, too! You might put your child in the bathtub, but forget the water. Oops! Or maybe, you hand them an unpeeled banana. Now what?! What if you walk towards a closed door and don’t open it? Essentially, we want to create a problem, stop, and wait. This gives your child a chance to communicate the problem with you. 

Modeling and Imitation 

Modeling is perhaps the most important of the bunch and should be used in tandem with each strategy. Give your child the language they could use at the moment and pause.  This moment of silence gives them the opportunity to imitate your model. If they are not up for imitating, no worries! Try modeling one more time and give them your assistance. Imitation or not, we are teaching the child that using language can help us meet our wants and needs efficiently. 

Limiting Your Language

It is important to assure that the model you provide is one-step above your child’s current communication level in order to promote language growth. If they are using vocalizations or gestures, you may choose to provide single-word models verbally, through sign language and/or a communication device. If they are using single words, you may choose to provide two-word phrases through any of these modalities. 


Child: Vocalizes and gestures towards the milk. 

Caretaker: Signs “Milk.” Points to the milk. Verbally states “Milk!”

Pause for an imitation opportunity. 

Caretaker: “Milk!” Hand milk to the child. 


Increasing communicative demand and directly teaching language through repetitive models helps language learners initiate communication to meet their wants and needs, at a level appropriate for them. If you have any questions or concerns about your child’s language development, please contact the PlayWorks Therapy office at 773-332-9439 or


Mary Long, M.S., CF-SLP

Speech and Language Pathologist