We eagerly await the first words, then the sentences that let us enter the magical world of our toddler in a new and exciting way. The exciting journey from babbling to banter is closely linked to emotion and the
development of relationships, which means that your input – loving, joyful interaction and responsiveness to your child’s efforts to talk (stop, drop, get on your child’s level and make eye contact as you listen) – are hugely important to help him become an articulate little speaker.
Your baby has been developing his conversation skills from birth, or even earlier if we count all the listening in to your conversations that he was doing while he was still on the inside, but now that he is a toddler his speech skills will come together at breakneck speed: From somewhere around your child’s first birthday, he will learn approximately two words a week -that is, an exciting 50 words or so by the time he is eighteen months old. If your child is being reared in a bilingual environment the number of words may
be split between both languages and at first, your little one’s wonderful version of words may be understandable only to you or close family members.
Between 18 and 24 months, language skills will really start to take off: experts call this the ‘naming explosion’ because your toddler could learn around ten or more new words each day as he begins to label things in his environment – cup, car, ball, bath …. And, if he is really a little chatterbox, he could learn a new word every ninety minutes!
At around two years (remember, all children develop at their own individual pace), your toddler will begin stringing words together. However, his sense of grammar will take a while longer to evolve: he will say things like “me go,” and he may use the same name for anything that falls into the same general category: all animals with four legs might be ‘dog’ and (oh dear!) any man could be a ‘daddy’. Grammar skills are related to maturity of an area of the brain that is dedicated to processing language and storing all the rules
needed for stringing words together into meaningful sentences. This means that when your little chatterbox is developmentally ready, along with lots of exposure to language, he will soon be telling you about his world, describing his feelings and embarrassing you out loud and proud as he ‘parrots’ everything
he hears – so watch your own language!
To encourage your little chatterbox:
Name everything. ‘ Door knob!’, ‘chair’ , ‘dog’, ‘light’. Later add adjectives to describe his favorite
toys, people and objects: ‘red jumper’, ‘cold milk’, ‘big truck.’
Listen. Your child’s attempts to use language will be reinforced when you pay attention, so remove
background distractions such as the television and computer and give your
child your full attention. Get down to your little one’s level and make
eye contact as you talk to him, then pause and listen as he takes a turn at responding.
Be a role-model. Talk to your child in clear, simple, relevant language, avoiding baby talk. Model language by using ‘parallel talk.’ This means talking about everything your child is doing while she is doing
it. For example, while your child is scooting along on her ride on, you could say, “You are riding your train. Wow! You are pushing with your feet. I like the way you are riding your train.” When you’re walking down
the street, babble on about trees, cars, people, puddles – whatever your child sees, hears or smells. You can also model language by using ‘self-talk’ – talking about what YOU are doing as you work at home (I am getting the milk out of the fridge and now I will make a cup of tea) or as you drive along in the car (we are going round the corner at the traffic lights and we will buy some apples at the shop. Look at the big digger pushing the dirt into a hill!).
Encourage, don’t criticize. If somebody corrects you when you are doing your best, it doesn’t inspire you to do better, does it? In fact, it might put you off trying for a while. So please don’t correct your child when she makes an attempt to talk but gets it a little wrong. Instead of telling her “it is ‘dog’, not ‘gog’,” simply model the correct word without a fuss, “yes, a big black dog.”
Extend your child’s vocabulary. Your toddler’s level of understanding will be ahead of his ability to express himself. As he attempts to talk, model advanced grammar, add information and extend your tot’s vocabulary by repeating his words clearly and adding to them. For instance, if he says, “drink,” (or “dink,” as he points animatedly at the fridge), you can say, “you want a drink? Mummy will get you a drink.”
Extend language through experience. Your toddler will learn more from seeing animals at the zoo or a farm, than being shown flashcards of animals. You can then enjoy a shared experience and expand his language skills by reading books about the animals he has seen, or take photos and make your own picture book. As you read about animals, create discussion, “that’s a big pink pig. He likes to roll in mud. What noise does the pig make?” Letting him help with household chores will create opportunities to talk too. For instance, cooking together is great hands-on experience that will extend your tot’s vocabulary as you name ingredients, pour, chop and stir.
Exaggerate speech sounds -Some children acquire speech sounds much earlier or later than others,
depending on coordination of the child’s lips tongue and palate. As your child matures, he will gradually correct his speech sound patterns. To encourage correct speech sounds, exaggerate sounds in words and play games with silly sounds –if silliness doesn’t come easily, read Dr Seuss books for inspiration: “He can go like a train CHOO, CHOO, CHOO, CHOO. He can go like a clock. He can TICK. He can TOCK.”
Be animated! Come on, shed those inhibitions by using gestures as you stress prepositions to help your tot understand ‘behind’ ‘on top’ and ‘under’!
Sing along. Whatever your singing ability, ban performance anxiety and sing out loud with your child Singing helps break words into syllables and slows down the sounds of speech. Consider too, the repetition as little ones hear the words to familiar songs over and over. And, let’s face it, if you are going to repeat yourself endlessly (as you do!), it is far more fun to sing than to nag (‘this is the way we pick up the toys..’).
Read. Read aloud every day, several times a day. Short books with rhyme and repetition will encourage
your child to join in and ‘read’ with you. You can play games by waiting for him to finish the line of a favourite rhyming book. As you enjoy reading together, your poppet will be naturally, joyously extending his vocabulary and his feeling for word patterns that make up speech and grammar.
Encourage social language. You are your child’s most powerful model as you help her develop social skills such as greeting people politely, taking turns in conversation, making eye contact while talking and encouraging manners such as ‘please’, ‘thank-you’ and ‘excuse me’.