Elements of a Language-Rich Home Environment


    By Joanne Corwin, Rosemary Gallegos, Mary Pat Moeller, Arlene Stredler Brown

    Children thrive in language-rich environments. For infants, stimulation is based in the social/affective relationships with family members. It is conversational from day one. As children grow, stimulation and dialogues need to support the child's understanding of his/her world and provide the necessary foundations for literacy.

    Parenting any child is a developmental process. When a child is deaf or hard of hearing, families learn everything that any parent learns, but they add the process of figuring out how to provide and make accessible fluent language models and strategies to support increasingly abstract dialogues with their child.

    Language blossoms and flourishes in an environment that is:

    • Respectful – The child is seen as a person who can communicate routine information and can understand and learn complex communication.
    • Real and Meaningful – Communication is authentic, not contrived. The child's interests and natural curiosity are used as language content.
    • Nurturing – Language is presented within a zone of proximal development. This means that the family accepts and supports the language of the child. Families also gently challenge the language of the child to “bump up” and stretch the child's use of new vocabulary, complex language, and abstract ideas. This means that language is not only tied to the here-and-now, but includes discussion about things that are not in the room and that happened in the past and will happen in the future. Complexity and range of purposes for using language are modeled, and the child is encouraged to use language for this wide variety of functions (such as to play, to pretend, to negotiate, to complain, to question, to answer, to describe etc.).
    • Responsive – A family follows a child's lead. They accept approximations and model precision naturally. They map language into communicative attempts the child initiates.
    • Strategic – Language is flexible and incorporates a variety of strategies to encourage communication and expansion (expectant pauses, repetition of the child, rephrasing, adding a gesture for clarification, changing modes or languages to clarify meaning, using manipulatives to support understanding or maintain attention).
    • Constant – The child is bathed in language (in routines, for new and exciting events, to allay fears or confusion, to explain what is happening now, to explain what will happen, for commenting, sharing, discussing, problem solving etc.).
    • Guiding – Language is used to advocate and provide guidance. Children learn how to problem solve and think through options with their friends and adults.
    • Social – Children have numerous opportunities to interact with a wide variety of communication partners at home and in the family's community.
    • Complete – The child is provided with fluent language models.
    • Emotional – A family uses language to communicate their emotional availability. This provides the child with words to label and discuss feelings.
    • Thought-Provoking – The most wonderful aspect of language is that its purpose is to communicate and stimulate thought. The world is an amazing place that is full of surprises. Children need the opportunity to talk about the “whys” and “hows” of their environment.


    Bath time is a wonderful opportunity for language. It is usually a pleasant experience and you are one-on-one in close proximity. Some basic concepts that can be developed are: the water is on or off, the water level is high or low, the child's hand or foot is in or out of the water. A list of items used in bathing include water, tub, soap, washcloth, towel, brush, faucet, drain, and of course the names of all of the tub toys. Then, describe the items - the water is hot, warm, or cold; the soap is slippery; the wash cloth is dry, wet, rough. This language experience may also be expanded to include the body parts.


    A broad base of general information is often lacking in deaf children, so it is important to begin early to expand this base. Start with the word water. What kind of a vocabulary list can be developed to include all of our associations? Make a book of pictures cut from magazines of waterfall, ocean, lake, river, stream, creek, pond, pool puddle, geyser, fountain, H2O, pour, drink, swim, wash, rain, and shower.

    Basic concepts are fun to work on during play. Here is a list with which to begin: in/out, on/off, under/over, up/down, in front of/ behind, across, around, between, with, middle, together, without or missing, long, short, tall, near or next to.

    Teaching your child language concepts is an ongoing process. For best results:

    1. Choose one word per week.

    2. Learn the sign and/or speech.

    3. Include the kinesthetic modality and act it out. Example: get in the box, get in the car, go in the house, get in the bed, get in the tub.

    4. Have toys be the agents. Example: The ball is in the box. The doll is in the bed. The blocks are in the wagon.

    5. Have the child listen to the language and perform the concept correctly. Example: Put the bear in the box. Put the crackers in the bag.)

    6. Have the child use the language, and tell you. Example: Get in the car, or put the ball in the box


        How to choose a way to communicate:

    • Accept that each family is different.
      There isn't a "right" choice for all children. Each child is different, and needs different things. Parents are also different, and have their own hopes for their children. Some families are able to do one thing. Some families are only able to do another.
    • Be flexible.
      Follow your child's lead. You may feel stressed out over choosing one of the options listed above. But many parents find that the best choice is to follow their child's lead. Some parents even combine ways of communicating. It's important to be flexible.
    • Ask yourself these questions:
      • How much can your child hear? Can he can hear at all?
      • Does your child get mad quickly when you don't understand him?
      • Are you willing to learn a new language?
      • How much time can you give to help your child learn?
      • How important is it to you that your child learns to speak clearly?
      • Are there programs for the different options where you live?
      • What do other parents and professionals say about those programs?

    Source: Elements of a Language Rich Home Environment.