“Mama-dada”! Are these the words you are eagerly waiting to hear from your baby? Babies learn sounds before they begin to speak and utter their first words,usually around the age of one year (1). Language skills develop gradually with age-wise development from infancy to toddlerhood (2).
There are many activities that you can try to help your baby or toddler develop the skill of speaking. In this post, we learn about language development in babies and try some tested ways to help your toddler speak fluently.
Language Development Milestones
The development of language and achievement of speaking happens in stages, which occur at different ages (3).
- Stage 0 to 6 months: Babies of this age group understand that you are speaking and acknowledge your voice. They respond to their names, make cooing and babbling sounds, along with crying to communicate with adults.
- Stage 7 to 12 months: Babies in this age understand simple words like “yes” and “no.” They may try saying something similar to words but are unable to speak until one year old. The baby may often use gestures to communicate.
- Stage 13 to 18 months: Around this age, the toddler’s vocabulary includes 10 to 20 words. This is the time they start repeating what you say. They understand simple phrases and commands like “pick up the ball.”
- Stage 19 to 24 months: The vocabulary of your toddler may have expanded to 50+ words till this age. They usually can name objects, body parts, differentiate colors, and form short phrases or sentences.
- Stage 25 to 36 months: By the time your toddler is between two and three years of age, they may have a vocabulary of 250+ words. They can now indulge in active conversations with you, asking questions, requesting objects, and understand your directions properly.
Activities To Help Toddlers Talk
Parents can try various enjoyable activities to exercise the toddler’s speaking skills. The more exposure to new words, the more will be the chances of picking them.Indulge in activities that the toddler enjoys; repetition and consistency are the keys for maximum effectiveness (4).
The following are some fun-filled activities that you could consider trying with babies and toddlers.
- Sing to them: Try finding a favorite song that your baby enjoys. Sing songs to the baby while they play in their crib or while you hold them in your arms. Choose songs with easy words and a catchy tune.
- Recite nursery rhymes: Nursery rhymes are intended to attract the attention of a toddler. These have easy-to-understand meanings with short, interesting stories and rhyming sentences with pleasant tunes for quick grasping.
- Tell stories: This is one of the most effective ways to bond with your baby or toddler. As you tell stories, babies are likely to take up your language and culture swiftly. Story telling will also enhance the toddler’s imagination.
- Read to them:Read out small sentences for the baby regularly so that they can understand and repeat them effortlessly. Statements should have meanings, and the words should be easy to utter.
- Watch some good baby TV shows: There are many baby TV shows that can help your little one learn new words, numbers, and small phrases. Babies connect with the cartoons quickly, as it’s enticing for them, with cute voices and sounds. This activity should be limited to an hour a day.
- Talk to your baby:Start with sharing about your day or describing your routine chores. Sit with the baby or toddler at home or take them to the garden and narrate everything happening around. This will help them take up new words faster, along with the meaning of those words.
- Respond to the child’s actions: Babies and toddlers love pretend play. If you find them pretend play driving, ask them where they are going and what will they do there, or will they take you along? If your toddler hands you an object, ask them to describe the object in their own words.
- Try copying your child’s attempts at words: This will build a two-way conversation between you and the baby, and the baby would feel encouraged to speak further. It may make them feel that you can understand them and, thus, they will attempt talking more with you. Try not to correct them much, as it’s their learning period.
- Try building-up words: If the toddler says “apple,” you can say “yes,it’s a juicy red apple,” or if they try saying “elephant,” you can say “a large elephant.” This helps teach them to include newly learned words into meaningful phrases.
- Point and ask:Point at the nose and ask what it is? Wait for a moment to give the toddler a chance to answer.If they don’t answer, give them a prompt. If they answer it correctly, encourage them by saying, “yes,that’s the nose.” This will help them understand the specific names of the object.
- Create situations for talking: This can be done when there are opportunities, such as when the baby wants you to give them a toy. The baby will try asking your help to get the toy. If the toddler begins to point rather than talk, ask them if they want it by saying, “do you want the yellow car?”.While handing it to them, say, “here is your yellow car.”
- Try playing forgetful parents: This game encourages the baby to remind you about things you pretend to forget. For instance, if it is time to go outdoors, pretend that you forgot putting on the toddler’s shoes. The toddler is quite likely to notice it and point it out to you. When they do, ask them, “did I forget something?”. It will encourage them to express with words than actions.
- Name everyday things repeatedly:Say the name of each item the baby uses in a day. For instance, when giving the toddler their sippy cup, say, “here is your sippy cup.” Name the foods they eat or their toys, and soon they will start speaking those names, too.
- Speak with excitement: Toddlers get excited when they see parents excited. It prompts them to imitate you when they notice your happy words and expressions. Try using exaggerated facial expressions, sounds, and gestures to encourage the little one to repeat what you say.
- Let toddlers socialize: Give your toddler an opportunity to make friends and interact with other toddlers. When they see other toddlers of similar age, they could feel encouraged to talk.A few great places for your toddler to socialize are the local parks, family gatherings, playgroups, and daycare.
What To Avoid When Toddler Is Learning To Speak?
Avoid the following habits to reinforce the correct pronunciation of words and improve a toddler’s vocabulary.
- Baby talks: If you hear the baby babbling, repeat the actual word instead of using baby talk. It will make them understand the correct pronunciation. For example, if the kid says “baa” while asking for the bottle, say “bottle” and then give it to them.
- Speedy talks: Give your baby or toddler time to understand the words you speak. Talk slowly and stress on words to help the baby grasp the correct pronunciation. Speedy talks may confuse the toddler since they are still learning to understand the language.
- Overuse of pacifiers: Constant use of pacifiers or a thumb-sucking habit may inhibit the development of speech. It is generally suggested that toddlers stop using pacifiers by the age of two years (5). If your toddler’s habit of using the pacifier or thumb-sucking is persistent, speak to a pediatrician.
- Respond to only gestures:Encourage your toddler to speak up to convey their messages instead of responding to their gestures immediately. Avoid motivating the toddler to use only gestures to communicate. If your toddler struggles to communicate, help them out by asking questions to which they can respond and communicate.
- Excessive screen time activities:Limit screen time to an hour of high-quality content, which can help improve the toddler’s language skills (6). Accompany your toddler whenever they use a device with a screen, such as television, smartphone, or tablet.
Each baby and toddler develops at their own pace. Therefore, do not panic if you see other toddlers speak a lot while your toddler is still learning a few words. If your little one has achieved their previous developmental milestones, they will achieve their speech-related milestones, eventually. Nevertheless, there could be certain scenarios when it is good to see a doctor.
When To See A Doctor?
- Does not speak simple single words by the age of 12 months.
- Does not speak at least six words by the age of 18 months.
- Does not follow simple instructions or use simple phrases, or does not know the name of common items, such as bottle and brush, by the age of 24 months.
Every toddler is different and grows at their own speed. Be patient and give them a fair chance to explore language themselves. Celebrate every little accomplishment of the toddler to encourage them. Constant practice through activities and positive reinforcement through encouragement can help lay a solid foundation for the baby/toddler’s speech and language skills.
2. Speech development in children; Healthdirect, Australia
3. Activities to Encourage Speech and Language Development; American Speech-Language-Hearing Association
4. Tips on Learning to Talk; Zero to Three
5. Pacifiers and Thumb Sucking; American Academy of Pediatrics
6. Where We Stand: Screen Time; American Academy of Pediatrics
7. Important Milestones: Your Child By Eighteen Months;Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
8. Important Milestones: Your Child By Two Years;Centers for Disease Control and Prevention