Click here if you want to view this post with the mobile/phone optimized version.A common goal in speech therapy is to increase MLU or help kids talk in longer phrases. MLU stands for "Mean Length of Utterance" and is the average number of words used each time a child talks. If the child usually talks in two words at a time like "More milk" and "Go up" then the child has an MLU of 2. There's a fair amount of detail when calculating MLU, but for today we're going to stick with a super simplified, DIY version.
Scaffolding LanguageSo if your child is only using two word phrases, how do help them get to five word phrases? Before you focus on combining five words, you need to move to three words, then four words, etc. You get there with one new word at a time by prompting your child how to use specific phrases and using "scaffolding." "Scaffolding" is an idea that comes from Vygotsky's theory Zone of Proximal Development. I'll spare you the details but just keep in mind that we're focusing not on what your child can do independently but what your child can achieve some help. This area of what your child can achieve with some help is what we'll work on by scaffolding or prompting your child's language skills.
How Do I Know What Language to Prompt?This is the big question! When you're going to scaffold or prompt your child's language, you need to first know what your child can do independently vs. with some help. MLU develops in stages so look below to find what ages to expect an average MLU. There's a bit of leeway with this timeline, so if your 12 month old isn't combing two words yet, don't panic.
|12-26 months||1.0-2.0||“Milk” “More Milk”|
|27-30 months||2.0-2.5||“Go out” “Pick me up”|
|35-40 months||3.0-3.75||“More milk, please”|
“I want more milk”
How to PromptFiguring out the how of language prompting is probably why you are here so let's dive in! When figuring out how to prompt language, you need to know how many words does your child use at a time without any help. Keep your child's MLU in mind so that giving her a realistic challenge and providing appropriate scaffolding.
How Much Help?
|What Do You Do?||
|Say one word at a time||“I”…. “want”…. “milk”|
|Say a few words at a time||“I want”….. “more milk”|
|Say the whole phrase||“I want milk”|
|Say the first word of the phrase||“I”|
An example of prompting where you're saying one word at a time: You: "I" child repeats "I" You: "want" child repeats "want" You: "milk" child repeats "milk" You: "I want milk" then give the child milk
Close the Auditory LoopAfter you've finished helping your child say the whole phrase, repeat the complete phrase back just like you would normally say it. You're setting the example of how to really say the phrase. This is a big part of prompting language so don't forget to close the auditory loop! Remember how the goal is to help the child develop language that's similar to that of her peers? Closing the auditory loop gives that example of how her peers are talking and what you are trying to help her do on her own.
How to Decrease PromptingWhen your child has mastered one stage, move on to the next step. You may start with 'feeding' individual words to your child, but the goal is for your child to communicate independently with the MLU typical for their age. Continue to challenge your child and if your child is having a lot of difficulty and is frustrated then go back a step and provide more support with the language prompting.
Sometimes it can be hard to plan out your language prompts and know how your child will respond. To ensure you elicit the language target you want (whether it's a sentence type, word, etc), you have to plan how you'll respond to the child's spontaneous utterance.
(Want to see some activities you can use to increase MLU and practice your language prompting? Peruse this post.)Now, please, please, please don't take these steps and apply them by only talking to your child is one and two word phrases. These steps are for when you are prompt your child's language. You need to continue creating a language-rich environment by using narration, auditory bombardment, and sentence expansion techniques. With that caveat out of the way, you now have a new strategy to add to your bag of language development tricks. Thanks so much for reading this post! Stick around and explore more ways to enhance your child's language development with this fabulous guest post!