What You Need to Teach Your Late-Talker (Instead of Alphabet & Colours)

Having a child who has delayed speech (late-talker) is probably one of the most distressing discoveries for parents.

A number of late-talkers seem to struggle with the seemingly ‘easy’ tasks such as saying “mama” or “dada”, but appear to find what would be considered ‘complex’ skills, such as reciting the entire alphabet and counting to large numbers, easier.

What most parents fail to realise is that the alphabet, counting, colour names, etc. are concepts that only require rote-learning (memorisation) and so children particularly those whose language development is atypical find these types of concepts easier to grasp.

Besides, a majority of children with delayed speech (language) also happen to have restricted social skills, and more likely be overexposed to screens, as this would be an activity that would interest them more than socialising with other children. As a result, these children would usually be overexposed to this type of content, making it easier for concepts (alphabets, numbers, etc.), they spend quite a long time watching to be learnt.

In addition, parents almost by default seem to gravitate around teaching many of these concepts that children with delayed speech have little trouble grasping.

Late Talker
Photo by Gustavo Fring from Pexels

Almost all parents I have encountered imagine that teaching such concepts as the alphabet, counting, shapes, colour names and labels (nouns) is the only thing to teach a child.

And I say to these parents that they are focusing on all the things that won’t grow their children’s language, and neglecting to focus on those that seem like they don’t make a difference yet they actually make the most difference…

Teaching your late-talker how to talk involves some planning in order for progress to be realised quickly, and it most definitely requires that parents focus on the right things.

Language Concepts to Focus on with your Late-Talker

  1. Spatial Concepts (Prepositions)

Prepositions are part of the spatial concepts that children learn early on in their lives, usually, from day to day interactions. Prepositions (spatial concepts) refer to location words such as in, on, under, etc. and these serve the purpose of helping children understand relationships of things in their environment/ in space.

Children with delayed language skills tend to have difficulty mastering or responding to prepositions, therefore requiring that these concepts are specifically targeted as part of vocabulary and receptive (understanding) language-building, for accelerated language growth.

Late talker 5 concepts you should teach
Photo by Anna Shvets from Pexels

How to Teach Prepositions

Teaching children prepositions improves both their understanding (receptive) language skills and it also impacts their expressive language skills.


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Improving a child’s understanding improves their ability to talk

Contrary to what parents might imagine, receptive language skills are one of THE most important skills for children with delayed speech to master in order for their talking to be impacted.

How does teaching understanding improve a child’s talking?

Well, we only say what we know.

Similarly, a child will only open their mouth to utter something that is familiar to them, and if a child isn’t yet talking, it is only logical to query whether they are understanding as much as we may think they are.

I know when I explain this to parents, most claim that their child “understands everything”, and whilst this might be true of certain speech disorders, most delays however point to the presence of a language delay, which means the child would have an issue with their understanding.

Here are the 5 concepts you should teach your latetalker
Photo by Brett Sayles from Pexels

I also further explain to parents that whilst most children with speech delays do appear to understand many of the instructions they’re given at home, the home environment and the manner in which most people interact with them advantages the child.

Most instructions around the house are pretty routine, and children can become highly familiar with them. Most parents also aid the instruction by offering gestural support.

Parents also confuse self-completion of certain routines with instruction. For example, if your child naturally will take their utensils to the kitchen after a meal without prompting, this should not be confused to imply that they are able to follow instructions, as merely doing something that was part of a child’s routine wouldn’t necessarily mean they understand specific instructions.

To Teach Understanding

Step 1: Start with the basic preposition words (1 preposition word at a time; ‘same subject’) and talk to the child about where the item is located. Try to keep the phrases stereotypical (mostly the same; ie. use the same sentence type).

  • Introduce ‘different subject’ before moving down the list of prepositions.
Late talker notes
Image by AnnasPhotography from Pixabay

Step 2: Put 3 or more (depending on what level of difficulty you wish to include) flash cards and ask the child to give you the described picture).

To Teach Expression (talking)

Step 1: Start with the basic preposition words (1 preposition word at a time; ‘same subject’) and talk to the child about where the item is located. Try to keep the phrases stereotypical (mostly the same; ie. use the same sentence type).

Step 2: Ask the child to describe each of the pictures by prompting with the sentence, eg. “where is the puppy dog?”

{You can start the child off with a stereotypical sentence such as “The puppy dog is _______”}

Matching/Sorting Activities

Matching relates to the ability to group 2 items together according to a particular feature.

Sorting refers to the ability to group more than 1 item to a group according to an identifying feature.

Children begin the process of sorting items according to their features from when they are infants. As they explore their environments, they start to classify items according to their similarities and differences.

Children learn that things can be alike and different, and that some things can be related to others based on a number of different attributes.

Here are 5 concepts you should teach your latetalker
Photo by Tatiana Syrikova from Pexels

Matching Activities

Matching like items is a simpler skill, which requires a child to ‘match’ items according to a single feature that makes all matched items conform to this single attribute. For example, if a child is expected to sort according to colour, all a child needs to look at is which items (of whichever shape or form) conform to the target colour. Most children gravitate towards matching unprompted, however, there are children who this skill has to be taught.

In order to effectively match items according to sameness, a child must first be able to notice common attributes in objects and be able to ‘see’ the likeness and differences in objects. Attributes are discernible qualities such as colour, size, shape, texture, etc.

As matching requires cognition, it encourages thinking, logical reasoning and lays the foundation for later problem-solving skills. Matching activities can also help build language skills in children. Helping children express why like items were matched can provide children with the structure for their expressive language skills.

Sorting Activities

Sorting is a little more sophisticated than simply matching as a child needs to group items with one or more attributes together. This involves making different decisions about which items out of those being sorted share a similar number of attributes, which may not only relate to quality.

Some of these attributes may relate to semantic properties. Semantics refer to the meaning of words. For example, in order for a child to sort/ pair a lamb with a sheep and a cub with a lion, the child must be able to recognise that the defining feature here that is more salient (obvious) more than the semantic property ‘animal’ (which all of these 4 items share) is that there is a relationship between each of the like items (lamb + sheep and cub + lion), which is that one is the young one of the other.

This requires more reasoning, wider semantic knowledge and an ability to sort out more attributes in items and determining logically, those that suit for the context. Obviously, this involves higher order thinking/ cognitive skills.

The more a child is exposed in matching and sorting activities, the more their thinking (cognitive) and language skills are improved. The amount of time it takes a child to process through various items to match/sort them effectively also positively impacts on their attention skills.

Matching and sorting skills also set a great foundation for other higher level skills such as comparing and contrasting, and subsequent complex language skills.

Photo by Brett Sayles from Pexels

Importance of Matching/Sorting Activities

  • Matching and sorting activities help children apply logical thinking to objects
  • As such, they improve the way their brain works (cognitive skills)
  • And because of the amount of time they take children to perform the activity, they help increase their attention skills
  • Reinforce fine-motor skills (when physical manipulables are used test)

Do get started with these activities, and be sure to check out part 2 of this post, 5 Concepts to Teach your Late-Talker (instead of the alphabet or colours)- Part II for additional activities that all promise to expand your child’s language skills.

Please comment to let me know how you (or your child) are finding these activities.

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Wishing you the best with instilling the joys of learning to your child.


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Hi, I'm your teacher

Lorna Muthamia-Ochido

I run a family-centred speech-language therapy clinic, the largest in East and Central Africa. I’ve helped 15,000+ children optimise their communication outcomes (in other words, I make children smarter ☺).

Get your child talking in no time.

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