Reading Books to Children with Language Delays
By Pam Cooper, CCC-SLP
Kids Place West Speech and Feeding Therapist

A language delay is the slow or late acquisition of language abilities in comparison to their same-aged peers. Children with language delays often lack exposure to vocabulary and environments that allow for learning and understanding. Reading books with children is one way to provide the necessary exposure to building language skills.

Parents/caretakers can help facilitate child language learning by reading to them at home, starting as early as birth. Early on, how you read to your child is more important than what you read. Read to your child face-to-face with the book next to, but not covering, your face. This allows your child to see your mouth move and make sounds, and engage in eye contact. Be sure to speak with feeling, and take pauses throughout the story to provide an opportunity for your child to talk back.

To capture your child’s interest and help build attention, choose longer books that have a good story. If your child has a hard time paying attention to a book for a long time, try reading to them while they are strapped in a high chair or car seat. Once the child becomes familiar with reading and a particular book, then you can read it with them anywhere.

You can also choose books to target specific speech and language skills. For example, if your child isn’t talking yet, choose a book that has a lot of words with the /m/, /b/, and /p/ sounds. These are the early developing sounds that are easy to make and see made on the lips. When reading to target specific sounds, be sure to overemphasize the sounds when you read them.

To involve your child in reading, choose books with repetitive phrases, and give your child opportunities to finish a repetitive line. To aid in word prediction for reading development, choose rhyming books. When your child is familiar with a book, let them fill in the rhyme. You can use books to help target prepositions (in, on, under, etc…), too!

If your child has more developed language, but they have a hard time describing, you can use books without any words and have your child make up a story based on the pictures. If your child is having a hard time and leaving out details, you can ask open-ended questions to guide your child’s response (i.e. what’s happening here?).

If you have any questions about reading to your child or what books to choose, don’t hesitate to talk to your child’s Speech Therapist!


Sigal, Stephanie. (2011, June 14). How to read books with children with language delay. Retrieved from