Encouraging language development as your toddler grows

Baby’s first word may have breezed past a while ago, but he is definitely still learning the basics of language. He is a good student, though – good enough that he doesn’t really need to be “taught,” anyway. He learns as much about language from being interested and engaged in a casual conversation with you as he would from any lesson.

Still there, are a few strategies you can keep in mind as you’re talking to him, to help make sure he is getting the most out of the time the two of you spend talking.

The art of conversation

You and Baby have probably been having conversations of one kind or another since back when his conversational skills mostly just consisted of “mamamamamamama,” and “bababababababa,” but now’s a great time to make sure that the conversations you have with him come up early and often, and that they’re truly a back-and-forth. If Baby is a little hesitant to contribute to a conversation you’re having, don’t hesitate to leave a little extra space in the conversation for him. Long pauses can feel awkward for adults, but for young toddlers, sometimes they can give the chance to really put together a response.

Making sure that your conversations with Baby are truly two-sided also models good listening, and having respect for the people he’s talking to. Even if he doesn’t pick up that skill right away, putting the blueprint in his head is a great place to get him started.

Part of having a two-sided conversation is letting Baby’s comments guide the direction of the conversation, too. You can do this by asking questions about his thoughts, and then following up with more questions and comments about the things he’s most interested in. You can also do this by elaborating on the things he says by putting them in full sentences.

For example, if he says “bunny!” putting the statement in context and then responding (“I know you want your bunny, but we left her at home, so you’re going to have to wait.”) can be more helpful than just jumping to a response (“When we get home.”). This is because, by elaborating, and constricting complete sentences, you’re giving Baby tools he may be able to use in his own sentences later, and the fact that you’re building off of his statement helps him understand what you’re saying.

And just like when you’re talking with anyone else, asking Baby open-ended questions, or questions that need to be answered with more than a “yes,” “no,” or other single-word response are a great way to get him engaged. Eye-contact, too, plays just as big a part in talking to toddlers as it does with adults – maybe even more, since toddlers are still learning to read facial expressions, and to understand emotions, and so looking them in the eyes helps them make the connection between words, expressions, and emotions.

Finally, Baby knows a lot more about language now than he used to, but he’s still learning, and he’s bound to slip up occasionally. Instead of either directly correcting or ignoring a mispronunciation or funky piece of new-toddler grammar, try repeating what Baby has just said back to him casually, but with the correct grammar or pronunciation. Don’t worry if he doesn’t pick up the proper way of saying it right away, either – he’ll get there eventually, and for now, the more language he hears, the stronger his speech will be.

Beyond conversation

Of course, conversations aren’t the only way to help Baby stretch his linguistic wings. Reading together and singing together are both ways to give him a little practice in a fun, exciting way.

When you read together, see if you can get him to interact with the story. Singing together is a great family activity, too, and if you haven’t done it much yet, sing-alongs are a great place to get started. And if Baby already knows some classic kids songs, books of those songs, like and Itsy-Bitsy Spider picture book, can help him think about the words to the song, and what it means.

  • Raising Children Network. “Language Development: 1-2 Years.” Raising Children. Raising Children, February 1 2016. Web.
  • “Developing School Readiness Skills From 12-24 Months.” Zero to Three. ZERO TO THREE: National Center for Infants, Toddlers, and Families. Web.
  • “Let’s Talk About It: Fostering the Development of Language Skills and Emergent Literacy.” PBS. PBS. Web. 

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