If you came to our house, you would likely hear me (as the Mommy Speech Language Pathologist) talking about what my 1-year-old is doing allllll of the time!
-“Oh look! You put the blocks in the bin!”
-“Yummy! You love goldfish!”
-“Ewww, stinky diaper” (along with plugging my nose as a gestural cue)
Although this seems completely normal to me (and now to my husband as well :), I sometimes forget that not everyone has studied speech and language development or realizes the importance of all of the language exposure our children get even before they say their first word! I believe these are the 5 top ways to promote language development in toddlers.
1. Parallel Talk - This is when you narrate what your child is doing. You are putting language to the motions and actions your child is doing. This is incredibly important because your child learns receptively to associate different words with specific things/actions. What you say is also interesting to your child because it’s about them and what they are doing right now! After being exposed to the language over and over, your child will likely also start to say some of the words since he/she already knows what they mean. For parallel talk, I recommend trying to keep your phrases/sentences short but still grammatical. “OOOO the car goes down!” “Yummy! Blueberries are yummy!”
2. Imitation - Ever since they were infants, children are born wanting to imitate and make that connection with you. From imitating a smile, to a laugh, to a first word, children are programmed to want to do what you are doing. Imitation starts with motor imitation (clapping, waving, clanking blocks together, banging a spoon on the table) - this is where our therapy usually starts for children who are not yet verbal. After solely motor imitation, we often pair that motor imitation with a sound or word (e.g., popping bubbles while also saying “pop!”, pouring pretend juice into a cup while saying “shoooooo” for the pouring sound). After this, we can move onto word imitation when your child wants a specific item/toy/food. Imitating is a great way to also expose your child to turn taking as you take a turn and then your child takes a turn imitating you.
3. Reading Books - Reading books is so great for all ages! Even before children can talk, exposing them to books (both the pictures and words) is a great way to promote language development. From reading, children also learn correct book orientation and can start to develop a love for reading that will be incredibly important for their whole life! Reading even just 5-10 minutes every night can (even if it’s the same story over and over again!) can help increase your child’s language development.
4. Expansion - So your child has said his first words, now what? How do you support him in developing 2-word phrases? Expanding on what he says! If you are playing catch with a ball and your child says “ball,” you can say “go ball” or “red ball” “the big ball” Adding 1-2 words onto what your child has said is a great way to promote development of his expressive language skills. Your child also starts to learn that “red ball” and “yellow ball” are different things and that “my peas” and “your peas” are different too!
5. Follow Child’s Lead - This is probably the MOST important and effective way to bolster your child’s language development. If your child is interested in a specific toy/game/activity, as often as you can try to follow his lead! This will not only help keep his attention (let’s be honest, we all would rather focus on things that are exciting to us!) but also more likely prompt your child to interact and respond because he’s doing what he wants to do! Obviously, if it’s dangerous or not appropriate, we don’t recommend doing that - but overall you can target language doing pretty much any and every activity!
For most children, these strategies will help promote language development at a typical rate. However, if you ever feel your child is not responding appropriately or his/her language skills may not be developing as they should, we always recommending talking to a certified Speech Language Pathologist who can answer all of your questions and make suggestions based on your child’s individual needs. Please call or message us through Facebook if you have any additional questions about ways to target language with you little ones.