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How your toddler’s speech develops

Talk and listen article image

Your toddler’s first wonderful words are a joy to hear! From then on, they’ll keep on picking up words at an extraordinary rate. As they do, you’ll begin to learn a lot more about their personality.

Toddlers are naturally curious about voices. Even before they were born they’ll have been listening to your conversations!

Once they start to form their first words, your role is really important. Your toddler relies on you for lots of encouragement, so give them plenty of warm responses and eye contact to help them become a little chatterbox!

Here’s a quick guide to all the different stages your toddler may go through when learning to talk. But remember, all children are different. It’s quite normal for them to pick up different things earlier or later:

Their 1st birthday: You can expect your toddler jabber continuously. Sometimes these words aren’t fully formed, or sound like different words stuck together. So it’s often very entertaining to hear what your toddler has to say!
But even if they’re only saying a handful of proper words like “mama” and “dada”, they’ll be understanding a lot more!

18 - 24 months: This is when your toddler’s interest in their surroundings really shows. They’ll start to know the names of lots of familiar things like ‘cup’, ‘cat’, ‘teddy’ and of course ‘mummy’ and ‘daddy’ – learning up to 10 or more words every day.
They’ll be able to point to familiar things and people. And they’ll learn that talking is an important part of getting exactly what they want.

2 years: Around this time, toddlers start to put words into simple sentences – often called ‘baby talk’. So you might hear things like ‘‘me play’’ or ‘‘mummy drink’’. Also, they often use a word they know to describe something they find similar – such as calling the cat ‘doggy’ and the swimming pool ‘juice’.

3 years: Your toddler will be able to say longer sentences, having learnt up to 900 words! That’s almost a fifth of the words they’ll know by the time they’re a chattering 5-year-old!

How to help your toddler to talk – and listen

At the toddler stage their brain is like a sponge, soaking up words all day long. The more you talk and listen to them, the more they’ll learn.

There are many ways you can help your toddler to understand what they’re hearing – and the importance of talking and listening. This can help them make friends and concentrate in school later on.

Talk to your toddler face to face: By keeping eye contact, they’ll be able to see your eyes and changing expressions. This helps them to understand that words aren’t just sounds; they’re about two people communicating.

Point to or touch the things you talk about: When putting their clothes on you can say, ‘nappy first’ and ‘vest on’. Keep naming things that are part of their everyday world.

A quiet background helps them listen: Keep radio, TV and other distractions to a minimum. This gives you important listening space to concentrate on each other.

Talk about what they’re doing – and what you’re doing: ‘You’re pushing your trolley’. ‘You’re drawing with a crayon.’ Commenting on what your toddler is doing helps them remember names and actions. You can also talk about your activities while you’re around the house or out and about.

Doing new things: Toddlers learn more as they experience new things. So watching as you make a meal and talk about the ingredients you’re using will help them to remember different foods. And if you go to the zoo to look at the animals, rather than look at pictures in a book, the animal names will mean more to them.

Everyday reading: Reading stories to your toddler really helps to improve their speaking skills. And once they get to know their favourite stories, you might find you can stop reading before the end of a memorable sentence and they’ll finish the line for you!

Singing helps: You don’t have to be a good singer to make this work! Singing slows down the sounds of speech, helping your little one to grasp how different sounds fit together.

Speak slowly: Just like singing, speaking slowly helps your toddler to remember the different sounds.

Nursery rhymes: Reading from a book of nursery rhymes is another fun way to help toddlers learn about sounds and words. You’ll probably raise a smile if you can think up some simple rhymes of your own.

Do it again: Whether it’s reading, singing, rhyming or just chatting – doing it over and over really helps your toddler learn.

Plenty of encouragement: Give your toddler lots of encouragement when they say words they know and try out new words. If they get it wrong, just repeat it the right way and move on without a fuss.

Being polite: Your toddler will be ‘all ears’ whenever you’re talking. So this is the ideal time to teach them good manners by politely saying ‘hello’ to people, and saying ‘please’ and ‘thank-you’ in conversation.

Don’t worry! Toddlers learn different words and sentences at their own pace. So don’t worry about how many words your child knows. Remember, their understanding will be ahead of their ability to speak, and the words will come along sooner or later.

If you have any concerns about your toddler’s walking, please speak to your healthcare professional.

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