8 Ways to keep the Home Language Going

It seemed so easy to start with.

Knowing the many benefits of raising a bilingual child (improved brain flexibility, greater employability, connection with family and heritage) you decide to embrace the opportunity and make your home a non-English zone. You tell your family, agree on a plan (who speaks what, where and when) and await the day your lives are joyfully turned upside down and baby arrives.

It starts well; ‘mama’ and ‘milk’ are easy to remember in your home language, and you celebrate as baby says their first words. Then they start nursery; after an initial quiet period, they start to chatter away in English with their friends, then come home and talk to you in the home language.

But after a while, you start to slip. When you’re tired, and you’ve had a long day, you find yourself increasingly using English at home. What will this mean for your child’s bilingualism?

Firstly, there is no need to feel guilty. Switching between languages is a normal feature of being bilingual, and if it feels natural then carry on. Your child will be able to separate the languages out after a while. But, as we know, having a bilingual child confers so many benefits that it is worth persevering.

We racked our brains and came up with these ideas to help keep the home language going. Can you think of any more?

  • Start small: choose just 15 minutes a day (e.g. bath time) where you speak NO English, then once you do this consistently, add another time of day (e.g. dinner), then another…
  • Have a penalty jar- every time you forget to use your home language, put 10p in (or a slip of paper). Then once you’ve got enough, use it to buy a book in the home language (this site has lots: http://www.alien-languages.com/).
  • Find a radio station in your home language to listen to in the mornings as a reminder.
  • Label things in your house in your home language, then when you point to it, you’ll remember to not use English.
  • Change your phone’s settings to your home language, so you’re reminded when you look at it.
  • Try the books/websites here: https://www.ucl.ac.uk/bi-multilingualism/resources
  • Find children’s books, tv shows and songs in the home language.
  • Finally, enjoy speaking it! If it looks like a chore to you, your child will pick up on this; have fun with it, and your child will see it as something to be celebrated.

Good luck!

Written by Anna Sowerbutts, Speech and Language Therapist

International Stammering Awareness Day

The 22nd October is International Stammering Awareness Day. In Hackney we are marking this with our new stammering poster, designed to raise awareness and referrals to support children and young people who stammer. Click here to see our new poster which has details about how to refer to our service.

Stammering, stuttering, dysfluency? They all mean the same thing, and are used to describe:

  • repeated speech sounds e.g. “b-b-b-b-because”
  • repeated whole words e.g. “the-the-the-ball is red”
  • prolonged or lengthened sounds e.g. “yyyyyyyesterday I went shopping”
  • blocked sounds, where no sound comes out of the mouth when a person is trying to speak

A person who has a stammer may also experience muscle tensions in their face and body, disrupted breathing and reduced eye contact as a result of their stammer.


We know that stammering occurs across the world, cultures and socio-economic groups. The statistics tell us that around 5% of children will have difficulty with their fluency. This reduces to 1% of the adult population, which means that most children become fluent with or without help.


In younger children, nearly the same amount of girls and boys stammer. This changes as children get older, where we see around 4 boys to every girl who stammers. This means it is more likely that boys will need continued support with their fluency compared to girls as they get older.


There is always a lot of research being carried out, into the causes of stammering. Currently it is thought that 4 factors are linked to the possible causes:

  1. Physical e.g. genetics, family history, brain structure, development
  2. Speech and language skills
  3. Personality of the child/young person
  4. Environment e.g. school pressures

We know many famous people who stammer; people who have dysfluent speech and experience exciting achievements, such as Ed Sheeran, Samuel L-Jackson, Bruce Willis, Ed Balls and Tiger Woods.

It is widely recognised that experiencing a stammer is more than the disruption to the spoken language that can be heard. People who stammer can live in fear of speaking, which can affect how much they join in with learning and socialising.

A Speech and Language Therapist can carry out an in depth assessment of language and communication skills. They can then work with the young person, their family and school to identify strategies and make sure that all elements of their speech and communication are supported.

For more information, visit http://gethackneytalking.co.uk/, http://www.stammeringcentre.org, https://www.stammering.org


Written By Gemma Creek, Highly Specialist Speech and Language Therapist


A Day in the Life of…A Speech and Language Therapist

Tell us about your role?

My name is Laura Martin and I work as a Speech and Language Therapist in Hackney supporting children under the age of 5 to develop their early communication skills. I see children and families in Children’s Centres, nurseries, schools, at home or in health centres. And I work with parents, nursery staff and other professionals, including Psychologists, Social Workers, Family Support Workers, Occupational Therapists, Health Visitors… – the list is endless!

No day is ever the same as every child presents with a different profile of strengths and needs. I see children with difficulties understanding and using language, difficulties with speech sounds or stammering, difficulties with social communication skills and those children who have a diagnosis of Autism. I also see children who have difficulties with their voice and children with eating and drinking difficulties.

What did I do today?

This morning I saw a little boy who had a speech sound difficulty and his Mum, in a play room at a Children’s Centre. We played games to practice the sounds ‘f’ and ‘s’ and I gave his Mum some activities to try at home too.

After that I went to visit a nursery to have a meeting with parents and other professionals about what support we can put in place for a little girl with a hearing impairment. We set some targets together and all agreed on a plan on how to help her.

In the afternoon I ran a Talking Walk-In assessment session at a community centre. The Talking Walk-Ins are regular drop in sessions where parents can bring their children for a brief assessment and they can discuss any concerns they have. We make a decision about whether their child needs to have therapy with us and we provide advice and activities to try at home.

To finish the day off I wrote up reports from the Talking Walk In, liaised with some health visitors and got ready for my next day of therapy!

My favourite thing about my job?

Hackney is such as diverse community and I love working closely with children and families and really getting to know them. It’s nice to see the children improve.

The best advice for speech and language development?

It sounds so simple but talk and play with your children. Follow their interests and tell them all about the world around them using simple language.

If you’re worried, why not pop into a Talking Walk-In? Click here to find the Talking Walk-in nearest you.

Forest School explorations at Hackney Marshes

On the 22nd March I attended an under 5s drop-in session led by Lauren Mills on Hackney Marshes. The children who attended were aged 2-4 years old and from different areas of Hackney. It was a wet, cold, spring day so we were all dressed in our warmest (and most waterproof) clothing. We met at Clapton Park Children’s Centre and then walked over to the Forest School camp area at Hackney Marshes:

forest pic 1

The first thing we did was make a shelter – the children and their carers used tarpaulin and string (provided by Lauren) and attached it to the trees to make a cosy, dry den. The children and adults then explored the natural environment. Lauren also set out some tools for digging:

forest pic 2

When Lauren brought some clay and wooden cuttings out the children gathered around her with enthusiasm and demonstrated excellent shared attention skills – it was fantastic to see such young children so engaged in an adult-led activity. The language that the children used was also very impressive. Even the youngest child used comparatives in phrases such as, “mummy make it smaller”.

When the weather worsened we all went to the den (that was made at the start of the session) for a story and snack. During this time the children were given insects to hold and explore and Lauren discussed their different features. The children used lots of spontaneous descriptive language to describe the bumble bees and asked the adults lots of questions.

It was then time to pack up and pull Lauren’s special trolley back to the children’s centre. Despite the cold, wet weather the children had clearly had a lot of fun and their parents and carers reported that the children really enjoy their Forest School sessions. One parent also said that she feels the sessions have helped develop her child’s language skills.

Emily Alton, Specialist Speech and Language Therapist

Eggcited for Easter?

The Easter break is fast approaching! While this is a joyous time (filled with guilt-free chocolate eating!) the change in routine can be hard for many children and young people with speech, language and communication needs (SLCN)

Changes in daily routine can be difficult, especially if we don’t really know why it’s changed or what’s coming.  The concept of time, days and weeks can be tricky too, making it hard to predict when you’ll be back or school or not.

To help make the changes clear we are sharing Easter holiday calendars with our young people and parents. These will help our children and young people to understand what’s happening and feel more happy and calm about any changes.

You can download these calendars here! One is designed for more independent students (Easter holiday calendar 2017- for more independent students), while the other is designed to be used with more parental support (Easter holiday calendar 2017- with parent support).

Look at the calendar in the days coming up to the break and talk about what will be different during the holidays, e.g. you won’t go to school, maybe you’ll go to the park, or away to see family. As each day passes, look at the calendar together and cross off the days as they go by. This will also help the child/ young person prepare for the return to school…we’d often all benefit from a calm count down to the dreaded return to work!

Happy Easter break everyone!

The most hidden disability

Chances are you’ve heard of conditions such as Dyslexia, Autism and ADHD. But have you ever heard of Developmental Language Disorder? Don’t feel left out if you haven’t, as it’s probably the most common childhood condition that most people have never hear of.

And yet it’s common. On average two children out of every class of 30 will have Developmental Language Disorder (DLD). Seven times as many children and young people have DLD as autism. DLD really is the most hidden disability.

Children and young people with DLD may:

  • not understand, or remember a lot of what has been said
  • find it difficult to express themselves with words
  • talk more like a younger child
  • struggle to find words, or use less varied vocabulary

DLD varies a lot from person to person, so a child or young person does not need to have all of the points above, just some.

DLD can be hard to spot. Some children get noticed when their teacher’s find that their reading comprehension is not developing as they would expect. About 60% of children and young people with behaviour difficulties also have DLD, so if you know a child or young person who struggles with behaviour then it might be worth talking a closer look at their language skills.

If you want to know a bit more about DLD then it is worth reading this article by Courtenay Norbury (Professor of Developmental Language and Communication Disorders at University College London) and Emma Broddle (specialist speech and language teacher for ECLIPS (Extended Communication and Language Impairment Provision for Students) with Lincolnshire County Council).

We also have a range of DLD leaflets available to download, for parents of primary school children (dld-leaflet-for-parents-2016)  and parents of secondary school children (DLD Leaflet for parents secondary 2016).

If you are concerned about a child then check out our Get Help page for parents, or Accessing Services page for professionals.

And if you live in Hackney in The City of London or your child attends school here then give us a call on 020 7683 4587.

Our aim is that every child and young person with Developmental Language Disorder gets the support they need. You can help by telling someone else about this common condition, so everyone knows about it.

Stephen Parsons
Speech and Language Therapy Service Manager


Supermarket Surprises

I took my son to shop
I had some things to collect
Bread rolls, some cheese and a new mop
And get home before he started to object

The girl at the check was slow
We queued for ever and ever
Eddie got grumpy and wanted to go
But then his eyes began to glimmer

He started to shout and point to his right
He really got quite excited
So I knelt beside him and looked from his height
To see what made him so delighted

Just past the check-out girls’ hair
The escalator rose in the air
People were rising on magical stairs
So we both spent a minute looking there

Eddie looked at me and smiled
I said ‘wow an escalator over there’
The world is exciting if you’re a child
Take time to stop and share

Sign along to Christmas songs

It’s nearly Christmas – a great time to get everyone involved with some singing – and signing. _MG_0064

Young children really love the chance to add some actions, and Makaton signing gives everyone a way to join in.

I keep hearing about schools and nurseries where the children are having fun using Makaton in their Christmas songs and plays. It’s really easy as well – just show the shape of a long beard and mime putting a sack over your shoulder – congratulations, you’ve just signed ‘Father Christmas’!

I’ve been looking on the Makaton website and they have a fun Christmas Count-down every year. Every day there is a new Christmas treat – today’s was a group of young people singing and signing the words to ‘White Christmas’!  There are also free Christmas downloads with all the vocabulary you need.


Change that Gets Hackney Talking

_MG_0516On my way to work the other day I passed two men wearing skirts. Hackney is changing. It’s hard to ignore the coffee shops, vintage clothes stalls and pop-up hairdressers. Hackney is changing yet behind the rows of sourdough bakeries and boutique shoe shops, ordinary people are still stumbling through their daily lives.

Hackney is one of the most deprived boroughs in London and deprivation is not only about having enough food to eat or clothes to wear. Adequate speech, language and communication skills are a key indicator for success at school, in the workplace and in life. Children from deprived homes are still growing up with around a quarter of the vocabulary of a child from a more affluent home. Young offenders are three times more likely to have a communication difficulty than other young people.

The world we live in is changing and the ability to communicate is vital. Whether your aim in life is to run a retro clothes stall on Broadway Market or an IT business in Shoreditch, communication is key.

We’re hoping that our new website, GetHackneyTalking.org will go some way to improving the communication of Hackney’s children and young people. We want to see change in Hackney but change that reaches the Kingsmead Estate and Homerton Grove Adventure Playground, change that reaches from Homerton Maternity Ward to Hackney College. Change that Gets Hackney Talking.