How can I teach my child to talk? It’s a question that crosses every parent’s mind.
Whether your little one is at the newborn stage or in toddlerhood, you can help your child to develop language skills. I’m sharing the same techniques I’ve used with my almost 2 and a half year old son. He is able to speak in complete sentences and effectively communicate even with people outside of our home, which was definitely my goal.
How did I teach my son to talk?
I’m going to be honest, the main theme you’ll find in this post is that YOU need to do a LOT of talking. Our children imitate what they see us do, so if you want your child to learn to use words, you have to talk to them…around the clock.
Let’s jump right into all the ways you can help your child with their language development.
No Baby Talk
You know that saying, “Be the change that you want to see in the world”? Well the same goes for children. We have to model the language that we want our children to use. So when you’re chatting with your little one, speak clearly with real words that you want them to learn.
It also helps to use a high pitch tone and exaggerate the simple words you want to focus on.
This has been the absolute, most effective way to teach my son to develop language skills and expand his vocabulary. Reading books are key to language development because they first help with object-word identification. Then when your little one knows what something is called, they can try to say the word themselves.
In this post, I share a list of my son’s favorite books. Below are the books that I found most helpful for language building.
Singing is a fun and entertaining way for toddlers to learn to talk. I mean honestly, what better way to teach toddlers the alphabet?
Songs like the Itsy Bitsy Spider and the Wheels on the Bus help to teach words through demonstration. And songs with plenty of repetition such as the Baby Shark and Monkeys Jumping on the Bed stick the best.
Nursery rhymes have the fun, upbeat tempo that children love to listen to and sing along with. In addition to teaching words, songs also help to teach children how to use words in a phrase or sentence.
Telling stories is really beneficial for infants and younger toddlers. While we’re talking, their brains are firing synapses that help with them to build and strengthen language development. But sometimes we just simply run out of things to say. That’s where story telling comes into play.
When I run out of things to say, I tell JC a story. I’m no J.K. Rowling, so I don’t make up imaginary tales, instead I tell real life stories. For example, I’ve told JC: how I met his father, the story of the day he was born, my European travel experiences, the summer his Granny and I took a road trip from Cali to Texas and many more.
Do I expect him to retell the story? Of course not, this exercise is for his brain to hear and store a variety of new words with different sentence structures for future use.
If your little one is further along in his or her speech journey or you just have a better imagination that I do :), you can tell simple stories that he/she can repeat. To make it more interesting, imitate your narration.
Example: The airplane flew through the sky. Place your arms out on both sides like the wings of an airplane and pretend to soar through the air like an airplane.
When I say everything, I mean as much as you possibly can. The goal isn’t for your toddler to repeat everything you are saying. Instead this is another way to help boost their brain development by introducing more words to them.
Here are some examples:
Mommy’s going to make a cup of coffee. Mommy loves coffee. Mommy loves to drink coffee because it helps her to wake up when she’s sleepy. Want to smell the coffee?
Ready to eat some yummy oatmeal?! Uh-oh. It’s hot, lets blow on the oatmeal to cool it down. That’s better, now we can eat the oatmeal. Yummy! That’s delicious! Do you like the oatmeal?
Let’s watch Daddy cut your apple. First, Daddy takes the knife. Remember, only big people are allowed to use knives because they are sharp. Then Daddy peels the skin, so it’s easy for you to chew. Then Daddy slices the apple into small pieces for you to eat.
Legos! Can you say Legos? This is a green lego. Here is a blue lego. Lets put the blue lego on top of the green lego.
Make Them Name What They Want
As parents, we often know what our children want, even before they do. But it’s imperative that we make them name what they’re asking for. I know when I say “make them” it sounds harsh, but for most children, if you don’t require them to speak, they won’t.
Case and point, my son was a pretty good talker at 18 months when we enrolled him in Montesorri school. At that time he was able to use 2 to 4 word sentences. It was literally MONTHS before the teachers realized that he could speak at all. I had to show them videos of him talking, just so they’d believe me. They were mind blown that he knew how to talk at all. See what I mean, you have to make them use their words.
When my son would point to an object and say “this” or “that,” I would say, “Do you want the bunny?” Wait for his confirmation. Then say, “Okay, say bunny.” If he doesn’t say bunny, I’ll continue to gently probe him to say the word bunny. Some days are easier than others. I try my best to gauge his mood and temperament when pushing him to use words. If he’s having a rough day or didn’t sleep well the night before, I’ll cut him some slack, but most days, this old school technique does the trick!
Focus on Categories
While I do my best to talk and narrate all day long, when trying to teach my son new words, I focus one category at a time.
For example one week we’ll focus on colors.
- Day 1 – I’ll teach him red and blue (two colors that aren’t similar to avoid him getting confused.
- Day 2 – we’ll go over red and blue again. Then I’ll throw in yellow and purple.
- Day 3 – continue to focus on red, blue, yellow, and purple.
- Day 4 – review red, blue, yellow, and purple. Then add in orange.
- Day 5 -review red, blue, yellow, purple and orange. If he’s ready for more, I’ll add pink.
So and so forth. I’ll continue this pattern for a couple of weeks to make sure he’s got it before moving onto another category. And even after moving onto another category, I’ll always find opportunities to ask JC to identify colors in objects to help reinforce what he’s learned.
The keys are repetition and flexibility. It may take 3 days to remember 1 color, and that’s okay. As long as you practice, your little one will pick up the words you’re teaching them.
Name, Repeat, and Describe
When your toddler shows interest in a specific object, introduce them to the name of the object and help with word identification. Try to get your toddler to repeat the name. Then once you’ve given them an opportunity to repeat the name, you can describe the object to help expand their vocabulary.
Emphasize the words that you want to them to focus on and repeat.
This is a bird, can you say bird?
Yes, bird! The bird says chirp chip. Can you say chip chirp?
Great job! The bird lives in a nest and flies in the sky.
It’s important to note that toddlers aren’t always in the mood to repeat. Sometimes they’ll stare at you aimlessly lol. And that’s okay, their brains are still paying attention and absorbing your words.
Teach Them to Build on Their Responses
Eventually your child will use words to tell you what they want. Take this opportunity to help them develop more words. So if your little one says, water, you can respond with, Say: water please.
Once they get the hang of the two word combo, expand to, May I have water please?
The bigger sequence can be challenging at first, but with repetition, eventually your little one will get it. I would tell my son, Say: may I (wait for him to repeat) have (wait for him to repeat) water please (wait for him to repeat).
When my toddler uses words to ask for something like water or a toy, I quickly give him what he asked for to encourage him to use words. It’s like a reward system. Use words, and get what you want…within reason of course. Don’t go jumping over sofas or anything, but just make sure to acknowledge their words.
Lots of Praise
Have you ever noticed that your little one tends to mirror your emotions? When you’re excited, they’re excited. When you laugh, they tend to laugh also, even if they don’t know why you’re laughing lol. Well when you’re excited and applaud their efforts, they will associate positive feelings with word usage. We want language development to be fun for children so they’ll actively participate and enjoy talking.
Praise is absolutely essential when trying to encourage a child to use words. Even if they mispronounce the word, you can celebrate their effort. If your little one says burple (instead of purple), you can say, Great try! (and with a big smile annunciate) purple. Negativity will discourage toddlers from using words so celebrating their efforts can really help to increase their word usage.
Teaching your child to talk may not be easy, but it is so worth every bit of effort. So take your time, be patient, and keep trying. Some techniques may be more effective than others, the one thing that I’ve found true across the board was to practice when your little one is in a good mood. If you are concerned with your child’s speech development, let their pediatrician know…that’s what they’re there for.
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I wish you and your little one all the best on the journey of speech and language! I hope you found this post helpful. Let me know in the comments below if you have any questions.
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