Pre-Linguistic Skills: The Foundation of Language

Imagine trying to explain to a small child how to build a large, towering block tower. You may begin by telling them that they need a solid, strong set of blocks at the bottom in order for the other blocks to stay upright. If that child wants to build a particularly impressive tower, they need that first set of blocks to hold strong and be a great foundation. The same holds true for language! Pre-linguistic skills are the underrated (and often forgotten!) foundation that allows children to build language, and they must be thoroughly developed. In my last post, I listed them out for you, but let’s look at them further!


Pre-Linguistic Skills: The Foundation of Language

  1. Joint Attention: Two or more people (in this case, a child and their caregiver or therapist) focusing on one object or event, with the purpose of interacting with each other. At least one person must coordinate his or her focus of attention with the other person.
  2. Eye Contact: When two people look at each other’s eyes at the same time. For language purposes, we want this action to be purposeful and used as a form of nonverbal communication.
  3. Pointing: A gesture used by moving the hand or finger of a child’s body to indicate the direction of a location, person, event, or thing of particular interest.
  4. Turn-Taking: A vital part of communication that is shown in a back-and-forth reciprocal action. Learning turn-taking early can assist in the social areas of language later on, once the child is verbalizing.
  5. Social Gestures and Signs: Movements of the body associated with familiar social routines, such as waving, eating, playing, etc. Early baby signs can be taught for effective non-verbal communication as well.
  6. Babbling and the use of Symbolic/Environmental Sounds: Using and imitating sounds that children hear in their daily life such as animal noises, transportation noises, etc. are ways that children begin developing their verbal skills.


Incorporating Pre-Linguistic Skills in Therapy

So, I’ve listed and described each of the skills, but you may be unsure of how to incorporate your knowledge of the skills into therapy. Have no fear! Below I am describing a great activity to address each of them, with toys found around the home so you can coach caregivers through them as well. Want more functional tasks to increase your client’s carryover? I'm working on a special resource for subscribers to my Speech Therapy Toolbox, where I go into more detail on each pre-linguistic skill described above on handouts to provide to parents, as well as give even MORE activities to further your practice.

  1. Joint Attention: Bring out a puzzle and hold the pieces in a bag or box in your lap, then bring the child’s attention back to you by holding the next piece up to your eyes/face for them to acknowledge you prior to giving the piece over to continue the puzzle
  2. Eye-Contact: Have the child sit facing you and play a game of Peek-A-Boo!
  3. Pointing: Blow bubbles and then point to the bubbles as you “pop, pop, pop” them!
  4. Turn-Taking: Take out one of the oldest toys in the book-a ball! Say “my turn!” and roll the ball to the child and go back and forth, modeling the phrasing each time.
  5. Social Gestures/Signs: During clean-up, make sure to say “bye-bye” to each toy prior to putting it back in the bin or chest it belongs in
  6. Babbling/Symbolic Noises: Singing songs like “Old MacDonald” gives a child a ton of (fun) opportunities to hear, imitate, and fill in animal noises!

 Let me know how you are enjoying this new series or if you have any questions in this area you would like me to address! I am always happy to help! 


  • This is exactly the series I need. Thanks so much for sharing!

  • This is exactly the kind of tips I need. Thanks for doing this!


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