Most toddlers start speaking in sentences between the ages of 24 and 30 months. By the time a toddler is three years old, she should be understanding the majority of what adults are saying.
Of course, toddlers develop at different rates, and there’s no right or wrong age to start speaking and understanding. But if you’re eager to encourage your toddler to learn to speak and understand language as early as possible, here are ten great techniques you can use to speed up the process.
The best way to encourage your little one to learn to speak is to talk to them yourself. You may feel silly at first, but just keep on talking. You could tell them a story, read them a children’s book, or simply narrate what you’re doing as you go about your day.
You should try to keep talking as you interact with them. Talk about the food they’re eating and the clothes they’re wearing. For instance, if you’re putting a cute little romper on, tell them what color it is and what it looks like.
Be a good listener
Teaching a toddler to speak isn’t all about talking. You also need to be able to listen to them. Even if your little one isn’t making much sense, nod along, and be a good listener. This will encourage her to keep trying.
By seeing you engaging with her “speech,” she will learn the intricacies of tone, inflection, and emotion involved in language. She’ll also learn to communicate through expression, and in turn, become a good listener herself.
Many parents feel tempted to overcorrect their toddlers when they make linguistic mistakes. Try to avoid telling her off for getting a word wrong. Instead of correcting, try repeating her phrase, while nodding and encouraging. If she gets a few words wrong, you can demonstrate the correct pronunciation as you repeat the phrase back to her.
Use her name
Get her used to hearing her name and associating it with herself. This won’t only teach her what her name means, but it will also teach her the concept of identity. The more she comes to understand the meaning of “I” by hearing her name, the more she will understand how identity works in human beings. It will also help her to associate your name, “Mom,” with you.
Don’t use baby talk or gibberish
Lots of mothers and fathers get drawn into the adorable gibberish sounds their baby makes. It can be fun to play with your child speaking in your own made-up language. However, gibberish and baby talk will only confuse your child and slow down their learning process. Gibberish makes it harder for children to differentiate between real words and made-up words.
Wait for a reply
Although talking to your child is important, try not to simply prattle away without leaving any gaps for a reply. Even if your toddler isn’t speaking in “real” words or in full sentences, leave some time between your thoughts for them to answer you. By treating it as a conversation, your toddler will eventually understand that the gaps are the time for them to speak. They may begin practicing, and eventually, their practice words will make sense.
Be animated and emotive when you’re speaking to your child. Use plenty of gestures and large facial expressions. Lots of words are related to emotion and feeling. Gestures and facial expressions will act as hints to your child, helping them to understand what you’re trying to say. Your child will likely imitate your emotions, which will help to ingrain the meaning of the word you’re using into their bodies, even if they aren’t able to speak the word out loud just yet.
Avoid too much screen time
Studies have shown that screen time isn’t beneficial to a toddler’s linguistic learning. Too much time watching TV or playing toddler-friendly games on the iPad can contribute to speech difficulties as your child grows up. Try to keep screen time at a minimum, so that your child has more time to interact with real human beings and pick up the tools needed to develop speech and expression skills.
Keep using new words
Constantly introduce new words and concepts to your toddler. By continually stimulating your child’s brain, she will develop analytical learning skills that will serve her throughout life. Try taking her to new locations and reading her new books. Point out all of the objects, animals, and things you see that you’ve never seen (together) before. Say the name of the object several times while pointing at it. Introducing her to new places will help to expand her vocabulary.
Use naming games
Try playing a few naming games with your toddler to encourage her to understand the meaning of various animals, colors, and objects. Try lining up her toys, then naming them all one by one. Ask her to point to each one as you name it.
You can also try creating fun songs or poems out of a list of animal or object names. Recite the poem a few times a week. Repetition and music will help to implant the song in your toddler’s head. Memorization will make all of the words more familiar. As you continue to sing the song, your toddler will associate meaning with the individual words you’re using.
Toddlers all develop at different rates. While your little one may be crawling around and grabbing things from the shelves, she may not have uttered a word. Your friend’s child may be the complete opposite, with underdeveloped motor skills and a constant stream of fully-formed sentences falling out of her mouth.
Don’t panic if you think your toddler isn’t speaking ‘on time.’ Remember, there’s no normal. We hope these suggestions have given you some ideas of fun ways to continue to encourage your little one to start talking. Soon enough, you’ll be having deep conversations all day long!