Encouraging language development as your toddler grows

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

Still there, are a few strategies you can keep in mind as you’re talking to them, to help make sure they are 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 their conversational skills mostly just consisted of “mamamamamamama,” and “bababababababa,” but now’s a great time to make sure that the conversations you have with them 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 them. 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 they're talking to. Even if they doesn’t pick up that skill right away, putting the blueprint in their head is a great place to get them 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 their thoughts, and then following up with more questions and comments about the things they're most interested in. You can also do this by elaborating on the things they say by putting them in full sentences.

For example, if they say “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 they may be able to use in their own sentences later, and the fact that you’re building off of their statement helps them 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 them 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 they used to, but they're still learning, and they're 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 them casually, but with the correct grammar or pronunciation. Don’t worry if they doesn’t pick up the proper way of saying it right away, either – they'll get there eventually, and for now, the more language they hear, the stronger their speech will be.

Beyond conversation

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

When you read together, see if you can get them 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 them 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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