Books on Language Development of Children

Copyright © 2013 Karl M. Bunday, all rights reserved.

Descriptions of Child Language Development for Parents

Parents are sometimes concerned about their children's progress in learning to speak. My first son was born in mid-1992 and has grown into a boy who is articulate in two languages (English and Mandarin Chinese), having a large vocabulary and good reading ability in each language now. My oldest son had occasional dysfluency (stuttering) while age four that went away when he was less distracted by his play. My second son, born in 1997, is also developing normally, and although he initially seemed more precocious in learning to speak more languages than his older brother, later he seemed to be somewhat speech-delayed, particularly in English. Now he is articulate in Mandarin and adequate in English as we live in Taiwan, preferring to use English at all times he speaks to me. His older brother prefers to speak to him in Mandarin.

But before my older son was born I was concerned about the issue of child speech development as a talkative first-time parent, and have gathered this information both for parents of "normal" children and for parents concerned about speech delays in their children. I have learned much about the issue of childhood language delays from the speech-language pathologists (SLPs) who networked for years with parents on Prodigy's Medical Support BB, on the former Other Medical topic, 1-6YO SPEECH DELAY subject. I gratefully acknowledge their support and encouragement in preparing this list; however, all opinions expressed on any page on this site are my own, unless attributed specifically to someone else. My reading list on language development of children gathers resources for parents that inform them of what they can do at home to help their children, and how to seek professional help for language delays when necessary. The books are listed in order of most to least hands-on advice for helping young children.

Childhood Speech, Language, and Listening Problems: What Every Parent Should Know
Patricia McAleer Hamaguchi (New York: John Wiley, 1995) (ISBN 0-471-03413-4 [pbk.]). ix and 213 pages; resource guide, suggested reading, glossary, bibliography, index. Book by a speech-language pathologist (SLP) outlining the various diagnostic categories used by SLPs in current practice. Includes suggestions for parents on in-home steps to take to reduce childhood language development difficulties.

Talking from Infancy: How to Nurture and Cultivate Early Language Development
William Fowler (Cambridge, MA: Brookline Books, 1990) (ISBN 0-914797-71-9). xv and 236 pages; references and index. Dr. Fowler lays out a practical, in-home program for parents helping the speech development of their children. Both Fowler and Baron (an author reviewed below) tackle the issue of age norms for levels of speaking ability, with Fowler suggesting they now don't take into account what's possible with early language enrichment. There is also a great videotape version of Talking from Infancy available from the book's publisher,
Brookline Books
P.O. Box 1046
Cambridge, MA 02238-1046
(617) 868-0360.

Growing up with Language: How Children Learn to Talk
Naomi S. Baron (Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley, 1992) (ISBN 0-201-55080-6). xvi and 269 pages; notes, index. Baron's book is the most general in scope and has excellent lists of additional resources for parents. Baron reports a great range of differing ages at which "average" children reach different language milestones. Baron and Fowler agree that appropriate parental involvement can significantly speed up and enhance a child's language development.

Baby Talk: The Art of Communicating with Infants and Toddlers
Monica Devine (1991) (ISBN 0-306-43762-7). Devine is a speech-language pathologist whose book gives many examples of activities parents can use to promote language development in their children.

Talking and Your Child: A Parents' Handbook
Clare Shaw ([London?]: Hodder & Stoughton, 1995) (ISBN 0-340-57526-3). US$11.95

Helping Baby Talk: A Pressure-free Approach to Your Child's First Words from Birth to Three Years
Lorraine Rocissano and Jean Grasso Fitzpatrick (1990) (ISBN 0-380-75681-1).

Baby Talk: How to Help Your Baby Learn to Talk
Bruce Lansky (Deephaven, MN: Meadowbrook Creations, 1986) (ISBN 0-671-60570-4). viii and 133 pages; list of recommended books for reading aloud to children at various ages. Much hands-on advice for activities for children of various ages, including language games.

Late-Talking Children
Thomas Sowell (New York: Basic Books, 1997) (ISBN 0-465-03843-4). x and 180 pages; notes, appendix, index. Author's first-hand experiences with a son who experienced speech delay, and report on his work with a support group for parents with similar experiences. Includes appendix reporting on a survey of the support group, including the full survey form, to promote further research. Not much how-to information, but much comfort for parents who feel they are alone in this situation.

Talk With Your Child
Harvey S. Wiener (New York: Viking, 1988) (ISBN 0-670-81411-3; 0-1400-9652-3 [pbk.?]). ix and 276 pages; list of books to read to children, index. This title and the next title focus especially on teaching children conversation and thinking skills.

Is Your Bed Still There When You Close the Door? . . . and Other Playful Ponderings: How to Have Intelligent and Creative Conversations with Your Kids
Jane Healy (1992) (ISBN 0-385-41762-4).

The Child's Path to Spoken Language
John L. Locke (Cambridge, MA: Harvard U Press, 1993) (ISBN 0-674-11640-2). xi and 517 pages; references, credits, index. Locke's book is a good recent book for persons with a professional interest in language development, readable enough for general readers.

Bilingualism Second Edition
Suzanne Romaine (Oxford: Blackwell, 1995) (ISBN 0-631-19539-4). xvi and 384 pages; notes, references, index. KMBseen_MNU

Checking Hearing

Scientists who have spent their professional careers studying children all agree that steady language development is essential for well-rounded social development. Always be alert to the possibility of low-grade hearing loss if your child is slow in learning language after following the suggestions above. Burton L. White's excellent and helpful book The New First Three Years of Life (revised and updated edition 1995) (ISBN 0-684-80419-0) on pages 271-75 and page 283 has excellent advice for parents on how to prevent or at least observe hearing loss (which is often caused by ear infections) long before it would be noticeable without daily visits by an audiologist or physician. (By the way, there is enough other useful content in The New First Three Years of Life to make that book well worth buying for any parent.

Early childhood hearing loss is a treatable or preventable problem, not always sufficiently attended to in pediatric practice. Making sure your children can hear well is an indispensable first step to encouraging their language development. Note that there is a dispute among physicians about how useful aggressive antibiotic treatment is in treating ear infections, and there is even dispute about how often ear infections can be correctly diagnosed just by looking in a child's ear. But do seek professional advice if you have any reason to think your child is not hearing normally, and get a second opinion if the advice is only "don't worry about it." I've heard of too many parents whose children had frequent ear infections, then delayed speech, and then "dyslexia" to take this matter lightly.

Before Talking: Sign Language for Babies

I haven't tried this out myself, but while doing research to update this page I came across some on-line descriptions of books about using sign language (not necessarily standard sign language used by deaf people) to "talk" to babies before they are old enough to speak words. That sounds like an interesting idea.

One book you may want to try out for teaching sign language to infants is Baby Signs: How to Talk With Your Baby Before Your Baby Can Talk by Linda Acredolo and Susan Goodwyn. Please let me know how it goes.

[Last revision 9 March 2013]

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