Speaking and listening are often de-emphasized in schools due to the pressure on teachers to focus on reading and writing. The fourth through eighth grade language arts tests in New York State, for example, don’t even test speaking or listening, despite the fact that they are vital language arts skills! Don’t let them get lost in the mix. Parents can help teachers and their children by incorporating the following ideas.
Ideas to boost Speaking & Listening skills (in no particular order):
1. Have your child read aloud to younger siblings from board books, picture books, and chapter books. Reading a text aloud that is below one’s current reading level is a great way to build confidence. It also bonds siblings and improves the listening skills of the younger sibling. Bonus!
2. Family meal time is not an option: it is essential. Talk to each other. I’m not taking the moral high-ground here. Studies show that the number of words spoken in home on a daily basis directly corresponds to academic success in language arts.
3. Talk about reading. Ask your child what they are reading. Ask them to summarize the most recent passage, page, or chapter.
4. Ask questions. Don’t accept single word answers. I understand that it’s hard. The struggle is real.
5. Listen to Audio Books. To get the full benefit, your child must read along with the text as they listen. They will improve many skills including the development of sight vocabulary, word pronunciation, punctual flow, and syntax.
6. Encourage the use of speech-to-text apps on devices and cell phones for school use. If your child has a writing assignment, speech-to-text apps can create a bridge between verbal and writing skills.
7. Read aloud to your child. Get your child’s attention and share whatever you are reading that is of interest. “Hey, listen to this…” It could be a funny text you’ve just received, a Facebook post, or a startling Google news headline.
8. Listen to audio-books, talk-radio, or podcasts on topics of interest while driving. Everyone is a captive audience while “stuck” in the car. If using public transport with your children, get a headphone splitter and listen together on earbuds/headphones to the audio-book, talk-radio, or podcasts. Ask your child to listen actively and then discuss afterwards.
9. Minimize distractions. This can be a huge problem for children. Turn off the television during family meal times. Remove noisy siblings from the environment. Provide a clean & quiet space free of clutter and chatter while your child is working and when they must speak and listen.
10. Change your diet and nutrition. A diet that is high in sugar, processed foods, excessive carbohydrates, or industrial oils is bad for your brain. Period. You can improve your cognition immediately, and therefore all of your language skills, by improving your diet.
Free voice-to-text apps: Dragon Dictation (iOS); Speech to Text (Android); Evernote (Android); ListNote Speech-to-Text Notes (Android); Voice Texting Pro (iOS)
Free & legal audiobooks: Librivox; Lit2Go; Loyal Books; Mind Webs; Open Culture; Overdrive; Podiobooks; Project Gutenberg; Spotify; Storynory; SYNC
Free podcasts: Apple Podcasts; Google Play Music; Spotify; Stitcher