If you are a parent to a toddler that you feel should already be talking but is not yet talking, it is normal for you to wonder how you can encourage your toddler to speak and when you should seek professional help if you can’t achieve this on your own.
If this is your situation, you are not alone. There are lots of parents asking these same questions and seeking answers. That is why I encourage you to read on, so you can be rightly guided on which steps to take when you want to know how to encourage your toddler to talk.
Right from birth, a baby learns to make a lot of sounds. These sounds could be gurgling, cooing, and crying. As time passes, your baby will speak their very first word, most probably by the end of the first year. No matter what your baby’s first words are; whether it’s a simple ‘mama’ or ‘dada,’ it can be a fascinating thing for parents. They may even view it as one of the few significant milestones of a baby.
As your baby grows with time, you start to wonder how your child’s language skills are when compared to other children their age. However, this shouldn’t be a significant matter of concern. Children learn to talk at different speeds and in their own time. If you see your baby taking a little longer than their older sibling to utter their first word, it’s not something you should be worried about.
However, at what age your baby learns to talk is important since you can use it to track typically major milestones. In this manner, it will get easier for you to understand any possible delay in language and speech development that the child may show.
The truth is, some toddlers may require a little help to keep up with other children’s language skills. So we need to realize that there isn’t always something wrong with the child when they refuse to talk.
How do babies learn to talk?
Although babies don’t talk right from the first week of their birth, they are born with the curiosity to learn. If not verbally, they can communicate what they are feeling through facial expressions, which is primarily crying. Babies cry a lot before they go on to start speaking or cooing.
So how exactly do babies learn the rules of language? They do so with the help of tiny bones inside their ears and the new neural connections forming in their brains. They can hear the rhythm and melodies present in their mother’s voice for about three months before they are born, which can impact the way their brain develops.
This experience of listening and focusing on the mother’s voice and conversations from inside the womb can help tune the unborn infant’s brain to language. They then move on to speaking this language once they are born.
At what age should a toddler speak?
Language development is a long process, and it takes about 0 to 36 months for a toddler to build up a vocabulary and understand how to use words. Even though these skills take time to develop ultimately, newborns start communicating in different forms right from birth.
Here are some common forms of communication many toddlers use at different time frames:
- 0 to 6 Months
It is common for babies aged 0 to 6 months to make some cooing or babbling sounds. They can also understand what you’re trying to communicate when talking to them to a certain extent. You’ll notice that they start reacting to your talking by tilting their heads in the direction of your voice or towards other sounds they may hear in the environment.
When babies start to understand language and communication, it becomes easier for them to follow instructions like responding to their name or even speaking their first word.
- 7 to 12 Months
During this period of growth, babies tend to understand simple words like “yes” or “no.” When babies are 7 to 12 months old, they use gestures to communicate and may also develop small and simple vocabulary, consisting of about one to three words. However, most babies may not speak their first word until after turning one, which is entirely normal.
- 13 to 18 Months
Between around 13 to 18 months, a toddler’s vocabulary can be expanded and may include about 10 to 20 or even more words. During this time, most babies start to repeat words that they hear around them, so you might want to watch how you speak and what you speak about in front of them.
A baby that is 13 to 18 months old can understand simple instructions and commands such as “pick up your toys” or “I want you to finish everything on your plate today.” They can also verbalize small requests such as asking for water or wanting to play.
- 19 to 36 Months
This is the final stage of language development in a toddler. Toddlers typically aged 19 to 24 months can fit around 50 to 100 words in their vocabulary.
They can easily name the things around them, and they remember the names of familiar people and even answer simple questions like names of body parts when called upon to do so. At this stage, they can also speak short phrases and sentences.
By the time your toddler has turned 2 to 3 years old, they may have a vocabulary of up to 250 words or even more. This is the time when they get more curious and start asking questions. They may request items and fully follow detailed directions provided to them by their parents or others in authority.
What is the latest age for a toddler to start talking?
Typically, children babble from around six months of age and speak their first words when they are about 10 to 15 months old (most toddlers may start talking by 1). Once they start speaking, they begin to pick up more verbal cues such as words and combine them into simple sentences by around one year and four months.
While most people view language as spoken words, the idea that language is just speech is somewhat outdated. Understanding language (though it isn’t paid much attention daily) can be pretty complex. To understand language, one typically needs to know the words being used and have at least a rough understanding of the different contexts and meanings when used in a sentence.
The order of words also speaks a lot about the meaning in which it is intended to be used. These skills are known as receptive language skills.
Parents must be aware that children understand more at this age than they can communicate, since these are the earliest stages of language development. Children build their language skills by listening and understanding the language used around them by their parents or siblings.
While some speech conditions such as stuttering are noticeable during language development, other not-so ‘typical’ conditions may go unnoticed. This happens because even if the child faces some language comprehension difficulty, they could easily understand seemingly complex instructions due to their context.
For instance, telling your toddler to “go wear your boots” may help them understand that you are taking them outside. The toddler uses cue words “boots” and associates them with going out in their head.
However, if you say something with an unclear context, such as “Go bring the book that is on the shelf above the table,” it may require greater language comprehension skills for the toddler to understand.
Children with language difficulties may face trouble understanding the second sentence as they depend entirely on context to understand the meanings of certain words. So try to use easier and more manageable sentences for your kid!
Home Remedies for Late Talking: How to Encourage Toddler to Talk
Talking, at first, is something a lot of toddlers may struggle with. This may make the parents or other concerned adults around the child anxious. There is always professional help available for children that seem to be late talkers; however, here’s a list of things you can try at home that may help your child speak up:
1. Sign Language
Sign language has proven to be an excellent alternative for communicating with little children. You can employ sign language for the kid to use and tell the parents what they’re thinking of. When the child acts out a particular word, the parent may then repeat the word in speech form, and the child may nod their head to depict a ‘yes’ or a ‘no.’
In addition, you may also ask the child to repeat the word after you and use it instead of using signs the next time. But be cautious not to push your child into speaking before they’re ready to.
Many toddlers sing or react to music by dancing or simply nodding their heads to the beat. For some toddlers, rhythm in music might make more sense than the rhythm in speech. It can help to make up songs that mean simple tasks. For instance, you may sing to the toddler to encourage them to eat their greens by making up a song about vegetables.
It may be easier for them to sing instead of speaking their first words. Don’t worry; eventually, they will talk and not sing!
3. Use statements instead of questions
Using aggressive and direct questions such as “What is your name?” or “How old are you?” may trigger a toddler’s performance anxiety, leading them not to respond at all.
During this stage, it is crucial to make sure you’re polite to the child and make more use of expressive and descriptive statements while trying to converse. For example, saying something like, “You’re eating chocolate. I love chocolate too, you know?” will help the child relate to the individual and make it easier for them to open up to you.
If you’re not sure what questions you can use to get your kid talking, read this article: 90 cool questions to get your kid talking!
Professional speech therapists often employ this method. According to the authors of When ‘Simon Says’ Doesn’t Work (an article on the use of imitation to help a child speak), “A clinician’s imitation of the child might include verbal or nonverbal actions…For example, if the child yawns, the clinician might pretend to yawn (with an exaggerated vowel-like sound) and wait to see how the child responds.”
The individual may also imitate the toddler’s spontaneous verbalizations to help. For example, if a child says something like “baba,” the adult may imitate them by moving on to say the poem “baba black sheep.” This greatly encourages the child to speak up more and often.
5. Slow down
When helping a toddler talk, it is of essence to be patient and not push the child into talking before they are ready. One must be careful as this can also affect a child’s confidence or self-esteem, if they start feeling like they’re not trying hard enough to speak.
When talking with such a toddler, make sure to speak slowly, so it gets easier for the toddler to comprehend what you’re saying and what is its meaning. Once they understand what you’re trying to communicate with them, it will increase the chances of them expressing their needs and wants.
6. Talk to your Toddler A lot
Use every opportunity you have with your toddler to encourage the child to talk. During diaper change, feeding time, bath time etc. expose the child to your language by communicating a lot with your child during these times, whether or not you get a response.
7. Encourage Your Toddler To Repeat Words
If your toddler is already saying a word or two, encourage the child to continue by using every opportunity you have with them to make them repeat the words while you also introduce new words to them.
If for instance the child is already making sounds like ‘muh’ when trying to demand for milk. You can encourage the child to speak more by asking the child questions about milk or by talking about milk.
8. Use What Interests Your Toddler to Encourage Speaking
Find out what interests your child and use it to encourage your child to speak. Your child’s interests could be food, play, music, toys or any other thing. Your job is to find out what interests your child and speak to your child about it to encourage interaction.
9. Read To Your Toddler Daily
Reading to your toddler will help the child get exposed to lots of words, know how they are used and internalize them. So these words can be used appropriately by the toddler when he/she wants to communicate.
10. Teach Your Toddler Nursery Rhymes
Babies and toddlers love music. So you can use it to teach them words and encourage speaking by making them watch nursery rhymes and musical videos or even singing to them the popular ones you know like: “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star”, “Wheels On The Bus”, “Baa Baa Black Sheep” and others.
11. Let Your Toddler Socialize
Put your toddler in a setting where they can learn by making them spend time with other children of their age. They will express themselves more in this kind of settings and will be more inclined to speak as they want to interact with their friends.
12. Maintain Eye Contact When Talking
You can also encourage your toddler to talk by always trying to maintain eye contact when talking with him/her. Doing this will help your child feel more at ease and will encourage your little one to want to express himself/herself more verbally.
13. Avoid Baby Talk
Resist the temptation to talk back to your toddler in baby language and instead talk coherently to them by pronouncing words correctly. Doing this will help them understand the right way to pronounce words and will encourage them to start talking.
14. Praise Your Little One
Celebrate your child when you hear new words being used. This can serve as a motivation for the child to learn new words and speak more.
When to See a Specialist
When your baby seems unresponsive to sound or vocals in any manner, you should seek professional help right away.
It often seems complicated for parents to understand if their child is taking longer than usual to reach a language milestone or find out if there is a problem. Here are signs you must look out for at each age of language development, for which it is best to seek the help of a doctor or therapist for your child:
- Twelve months: The child is not using gestures like waving or pointing at things.
- Eighteen months: If the child doesn’t speak but prefers gestures to communicate.
- Eighteen months: If the child seems to have trouble imitating sounds or vocals or even understanding simple verbal requests.
- Two years: If the child can only imitate speech or actions but cannot spontaneously come up with words or phrases while being talked to.
- Two years: The child cannot follow simple directions and has an unusual tone of voice. For instance, their voice may sound nasal or raspy.
It is also good to consult a doctor if your child’s speech is more difficult to understand than expected for children their age:
- By the age of 2 years, parents and people who regularly interact with the toddler must understand 50% of their speech.
- By the age of 4 years, a child must be easily understood, even by those that don’t have regular contact with the toddler.
Frequently Asked Questions
Here are some frequently asked questions by many parents regarding their child’s language development:
1. How can I force my toddler to talk?
A toddler needs to cross developmental milestones at the right age. However, a parent/concerned adult must be extremely careful not to rush the process or ‘force’ a toddler to talk.
- If you ‘force’ a child, it may cause more harm than good. It may even lower the child’s self-esteem or self-confidence because they might feel like something is wrong with them. Using aggression is a straight no in getting your child to speak.
Instead, use encouragement and politeness in helping your child talk by employing these methods:
- Read with the child.
- Talk about simple things. For instance, ‘We should go out for a walk because it’s a nice sunny day, isn’t it?’
- Encourage them to talk about their interests by conversing about them yourself. If your child is interested in playing with clay, ask them what they’re making out of it.
- Recite nursery rhymes and play songs. Use stories and make up songs about everyday things for your child.
- Imitate your child to encourage a two-way conversation with them. Make sure you build on your child’s words. For example, if your child says “Blue,” say, “Yes. The sky is blue.”
- Appreciate the toddler’s effort to talk, and show them that you’re listening by smiling and looking at the child during their attempt to speak. You may also nod to show appreciation.
- Take it slow. When you talk, give the child some time to come up with a response. If you notice them trying, provide them with the space and time to do it. This will make sure your child knows that communication is a two-way thing.
- Come up with simple games or simply point towards things and ask, “What is that?” and wait for the toddler to respond.
2. Is it normal for a 2-year-old not to talk?
Although it’s not usual for a 2-year-old to not talk, it’s not a great cause for concern either. Your baby’s nature can play an important role in when they start talking.
Some toddlers may be more reserved or cautious than others and would want to wait to understand things better before they decide to speak. You may notice signs of language readiness in such toddlers that may take the forms of:
- Pointing to objects: Does your child point to toys they want or towards a specific picture in the book you’re reading? This can tell a lot about the beginning of actually speaking in toddlers.
- Understanding: Does your child understand and react to things you say? If your child responds to their name even when you’re out of sight, the toddler may be the kind who wants to understand a great deal from hearing before talking. Don’t worry; they’ll get there!
- Gestures and Facial Expressions: Many toddlers communicate using facial expressions and gestures. They may learn a good amount of nonverbal signals before moving on to using verbal language to communicate.
- Grunting: According to research, when toddlers grunt while pointing out pictures or toys, it may be a step towards verbal communication. It can also be viewed as a commentary of sorts.
Children who don’t seem to talk or even grunt are more likely to be diagnosed with a language delay later in speech development. If you notice your toddler not doing any or all of the above-stated things, it is best to consult a specialist.
3. When should I worry about my toddler not talking?
If you’re concerned about your child’s speech and language growth, developmental norms may help you decide if and when you should be worried and visit a specialist.
According to these developmental norms:
- Before the age of 12, infants may babble and coo. By the age of 9 months, they begin to put together simple sounds, but they may not move on to speak their first words until around 12- 15 months of age.
- Most experts say that babies must be able to recognize their names and names of familiar objects such as ‘bottle’ or ‘blankie.’ Sometimes, babies this age may watch closely but not react to any form of sound. This could be a sign of hearing loss.
- By the time babies turn 12-15 months, they have a wide range of speech sounds in their babbling. Words such as ‘Uh-oh’ or ‘wow’ can be common first words that a baby may speak or even address family members like ‘momma’ or ‘dadda.’
- Around two years of age is when a child can speak about 20 words, they may even start to combine two simple words to make sentences such as, ‘want food’ or ‘go park.’ A two-year-old must be able to identify everyday objects and follow accessible commands like ‘please give me the bottle.’
The most gain in speech development occurs from the age of two to three years. A toddler’s vocabulary may become adequate, and they may now use three-word sentences. By the age of three, a toddler can understand descriptive concepts such as small versus big and even identify colors and follow simple commands.
Use everyday situations and daily occurrences to help your child’s language and speech development. Talk your way through the day with your toddler. Point towards objects lying in the house. If you go on a walk with the toddler, point out things you see at a park or on the road.
When talking to your toddler, it is essential to use clear and comprehensive language for the child to understand. Avoid baby talk as it may confuse the child in the pronunciation and understanding of certain words. Children model behavior, so make sure you speak to them politely since they learn from you.
No matter what age your child is at right now, recognizing and treating speech and language delays early on is the best approach you could take to help your child. Call or visit a specialist if you have concerns about your child’s timely speech and language development.
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