When I work with families that have “late talkers”, generally preschool-aged children with limited verbal output, I am often asked what can be done at home to improve outcomes. Although there are a multitude of answers, I always suggest stimulating language with self-talk and parallel-talk. Self-talk simply means describing what you are doing while parallel-talk refers to describing what the child is doing.
In theory, self-talk and parallel-talk are meant to be incorporated into existing daily routines and experiences. Unlike some other interventions, self-talk and parallel-talk should not be burdensome or require a parent to set aside time to complete “speech therapy homework”. However, this does not mean the intervention is any less beneficial. According to Finestack and Fey (2013), the benefits of indirect language stimulation include increases in vocabulary, intelligibility (ability for a child be understood), and socialization.
With self and parallel talk, the parent is the model that provides exposure to language that the child can then imitate. Below are some examples of how to use self and parallel talk during daily routines.
Lunch is an opportunity to engage in both self and parallel talk, beginning with the meal preparation. Situate the child to be able to see what you are doing. The parent’s monologue could begin like this: “It’s time for lunch. I’m hungry. I’ll open the fridge. I see an apple. An apple is red. It is also a fruit. I am cutting the apple into slices. What else should we eat?, etc.”
Once the child has the meal in front of him or her, parallel talk begins because the child is now involved in completing actions. Here the dialogue could take the form of, “You are sitting in your chair. Are you ready for lunch? Oh, you are eating the apple. Mommy likes apples, too. You got your drink. That cup has milk inside., etc.”
Pretend play emerges around 12 months of age. Playtime is an excellent time for parallel talk because the child is already actively engaged in an activity. As an example, let’s consider a child playing with blocks. If the child is stacking the blocks and then knocking them down, parallel-talk could sound like: “Wow, you are making a tall tower. It’s so high. You put the red block on top of the blue block. You kicked them and they all fell down. Oh, you are going to make another tower., etc.”
This parallel-talk could easily transition to self-talk by making a new activity with the blocks such as building a road for cars to travel on.
At first, self and parallel talk can be uncomfortable because you are talking aloud when perhaps knowing the child will not respond. Remember that the goal is exposure to language. There should not be any expectation that the child will respond. There is no one right way to implement this intervention. If your child is already in speech therapy, it is likely the therapist is already using this technique. The therapist can provide models and examples and become an ally for at home implementation.
-Erin Norwig, M.A. CF-SLP
Finestack, L. and Fey, M. (2013). Evidence-Based Language Intervention Approaches for Young Talkers. In Rescorla & Dale, Eds. (2013). Late Talkers: Language Development, Interventions, and Outcomes
**If you have any concerns with your child’s speech, language, hearing and/or feeding development, please contact Curlee Communication Consultants at (865) 693-5622. We have a team of experienced speech-language pathologists that would love to meet with you and discuss options for your child. **