The Power of Imitation: How It Boosts Speech and Language Skills in Children

By Pranali Shah MS, CF SLP

Imitation is a remarkable ability that plays a significant role in a child’s development. From their earliest days, children are natural mimics, imitating the sounds, gestures, and expressions of the people around them. This innate tendency to imitate is more than just cute behavior; it’s a crucial building block for developing their speech and language skills.

Imitation can begin as early as 8 months old and it typically develops in a sequential manner. Below is the manner that imitation typically develops and some examples of how to help your child prompt imitation.

  1. Child imitates actions with objects such as:
    • Throwing a ball
    • Popping balloons
    • Shaking a rattle
    • Banging blocks
    • Removing a blanket during peek-a-boo
    • Stacking blocks and knocking them over
    • Brushing a dolls hair, feeding or washing the doll
  2. Child imitates communicative gestures such as:
    • Clapping your hands or stomping your feet during a song
    • Dancing
    • Animal movements
    • Communicative gestures can also include:
      1. Reaching to be lifted
      2. Waving
      3. Clapping
      4. Blowing kisses
      5. High fives
      6. Shaking head yes/no
      7. Pointing
      8. Hand motions for songs and finger play
  3. Imitating oral movements and nonverbal actions with your face and mouth such as:
      1. Opening/closing mouth
      2. Raising eyebrows
      3. Making silly faces
      4. Puffing out cheeks
      5. Smiling
      6. Pouting
      7. Blowing bubbles
      8. Licking lips, puckering lips, pretending to lick
      9. Wiggling tongue, clicking tongue
  4. Vocalizations in play and imitating environmental sounds such as:
    • Saying “ahh” in a bucket
    • Panting like a dog
    • Screaming or squealing
    • Grunting
    • Yawning
    • Fake coughing, sneezing
    • Making car truck noises, siren noises
    • Fake laughing/crying
    • Whining
    • Snoring
    • Making animal sounds
    • Saying “Shhh” for quiet
  5. Exclamatory words and “fun” words that require a lot of emphasis and intonation, such as:
    • Mmm,mmm
    • Yum yum
    • Yucky
    • Yay
    • Ouch
    • Booo
    • Oops, whoops
    • Oh
    • Wow
    • Woo hoo
    • Pow
    • Hooray
    • Aw man
    • Oh no
  6. Speech in verbal routines
    • Give your child pauses in songs, social games, phrases to complete the sentence, such as:
      1. Ready, set, go
      2. Peek-a-boo
      3. Patty cake
      4. Give me 5
      5. Ride little horsie
      6. Row your boat
      7. Ring around the rosies
      8. Songs such as: twinkle twinkle, itsy bitsy spider, wheels on the bus
  7. Functional words such as:
    • All done
    • Baby
    • Ball
    • Banana
    • Bye bye, hi
    • More
    • Mama, papa
  8. Short phrases such as:
    • My ___
    • More ___
    • ____ please
    • More please
    • Bye bye ____
    • Hi ___
    • Night night ___
    • It’s easiest to combine words from your child’s already-established vocabulary

One of the best ways to practice language learning is to master the 8 stages of language learning. These stages can be practiced during play, feeding, and even bedtime routines.

Information taken from Laura Mize, M.S. CCC-SLP (teachmetotalk.com)

Mize, L. (2011). Building Verbal Imitation in Toddlers. In Teach me to talk: The therapy manual ; a comprehensive guide for treating receptive and expressive language delays and disorders in toddlers and young preschoolers. essay, Teachmetotalk.com.

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