Language Development & the Significance of Taking Turns

Language Development & the Significance of Taking Turns by Paul Simeone

Language Development & the Significance of Taking Turns by Paul Simeone

It has long been established that there is a correlation between the amount of words a child hears and his or her language abilities. Exposure to language is undoubtedly important; however, a recent study by MIT cognitive scientists utilized brain imaging to specifically identify the value of turn-taking—communication interactions that involve back-and-forth communication by both participants.

This study highlights the importance of child participation in communication interactions as opposed to solely hearing words spoken to him or her. The areas of the brain that are involved in speech production and language development were more activated when engaged in conversational turns (1).

Taking Turns

Turn-taking is the foundation of conversation.

Gestures, vocalizations, and signs count as turns. Children who are minimally verbal—who communicate in gestures, vocalizations, AAC, or eye contact— and preverbal children can take conversational turns. The important component is the act of going back and forth.

You can encourage turn-taking by:

  • Letting your child initiate (watch, wait, and respond to anything your child shows interest in);
  • Keeping your turn short and simple;
  • Setting up games or routines that encourage back-and-forth (i.e. tickles, peek-a-boo, catch, etc.);
  • Waiting expectantly for your child to take a turn (i.e., raising eyebrows and hands to encourage a response);
  • Using visual cues to let your child know it’s his turn (e.g., using a gesture or picture to cue a child’s turn in a song);
  • Asking open-ended questions; and
  • Being cognizant of the pace of the exchange (each turn initiation can take as long as the child needs, and parents should match the pace).  

Parents and caregivers can encourage turn-taking by tuning in, responding to their child’s interests, and providing them with ample opportunity to communicate.

Please contact me with questions.


Paul Simeone, MA, CCC-SLP, ATP