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Twenty percent of four-year-old children have difficulty understanding or using language. This can affect how they communicate their wants and needs, their ability to follow directions, and how they interact with peers. Learn how to develop great communication habits early.

People communicate in many different ways. Communication can be verbal (speaking) or written. We also communicate using gestures and facial expressions. Some people communicate using sign language (Auslan) or using a communication device.

What is speech and language?

Speech and language can be confused as the same thing, however there is a difference.

  • Speech is the production of sounds using our tongue, teeth and lips.
  • Language is listening and understanding, as well as using words and sentences. We need strong oral language skills before we learn to read and write.

How can I encourage my child to develop their language skills?

There are many strategies you can add into your everyday interactions with your child to help boost their language skills:

  • Speak to your child at every opportunity and model appropriate language – children need to hear new words many times before they realise they can use them.
  • Share a book every day – talk about the pictures and characters.
  • Give your child opportunities to communicate –  give them choices and ask what they want (even if you already know!).
  • Expand your child’s language – repeat and add a word. For example, if the child says “doggy”, the adult can expand it with “black doggy” or “fluffy doggy”.
  • Comment – don’t question. Try to give five comments for every one question you ask your child.
  • Recast – if your child babbles or squeals, repeat their attempt by using the word they need.
  • What should I do if I think my child has speech and/or language difficulties?

You can talk to your GP, your child’s educator or a speech pathologist. You can find out more about speech pathology services here:

If you are concerned about your child’s development, or if you want more information on how to develop great communication habits early, contact your local ECEI Team. No question is too silly, and no concern is too great – we are here to support you.

Contact your local ECEI Team at Mission Australia on 1800 860 555, or email us at