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How to help your toddler to talk

Ways you can encourage your late-talking child to chat


Posted: 3 February 2011
by Kate Donoughue

Most children start talking between about nine and 15 months, starting to enunciate clearly at about two years. However, not all children find language so simple and still haven’t produced their first words when all around them are already nattering away. Apparently, even Einstein didn’t start talking until he was three. The good news is that about half the late talking two- to three-year-olds will be in the normal range of development by four and that number rises to three-quarters by five.


What experts advise is mostly common sense and a degree of patience. Children need to hear you speaking, to be read to and spoken to directly so they can see how you form words and expressions. Then they need plenty of practice, both with children and adults.


Parentese, the high-pitched slow musical style most parents use when talking with children, and which is found in all cultures, exaggerates the differences between individual phonemes in a language, making it easier for babies to hear the distinctions between say a “b” and a “p” sound.


Reading to your child is perhaps the most beneficial step parents can take in promoting language and literacy. The quality and quantity of words children learn is highly dependent on the quantity and quality of words they hear. Sitting together in a quiet relaxed setting with an entertaining book creates the ideal emotional situation for learning and also puts the focus on your voice – there are no competing voices, music or television noises to dilute the words and conversation you are sharing with your child. Books can also broaden the vocabulary you use with your child. They bring places and events to life outside our everyday experience. Reading also encourages your child to talk. The best way to use books is as a stepping stone for conversation. Don’t worry if your child interrupts you while you read; encourage questions and comments.

Other ways you can help a late-talking child:

  • Help verbal articulation by modelling correct enunciation and practising sounds your child is finding difficult.
  • Nursery rhymes help children to learn by priming them to remember what sound is supposed to come next. Encourage your child to join in.
  • Encourage all attempts at talking and, where appropriate, imitate words back so your child knows making a sound will evoke a response from you.
  • Use occasions, such as getting dressed, to help your child to practise what he is learning to understand. For example, ask your child to fetch his clothes one item at a time.
  • Repeat poems or words involving sounds. For example, The Wheels On The Bus and Old MacDonald’s Farm.
  • Cut out and stick pictures of things beginning with the same letter.
  • Ask open questions, such as ”Who is that?” instead of closed ones, such as “Is that Mummy?”
  • Play naming games, such as naming parts of the body or animals.
  • Try to spend some time each day with your child when you can give them your undivided attention in a calm and relaxed atmosphere, chatting about what you are doing.
  • Try to remain relaxed about things. Children have to be allowed to move at their own pace. If a child feels under pressure, he may become self-conscious and withdrawn.
  • If you are concerned about your child’ speech development, talk to your doctor.


Afasic helps children and young people with speech and language impairments and their families. Tel: 0845 355 5577; www.afasicengland.org.uk


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