Listed below are tips to easily encourage your toddler’s language growth. Read on to learn how to help them expand their vocabulary and use language variety consistently.
1. Stop Talking
I know this is probably the most difficult thing to do—but, you will be surprised once you stop talking how much more your toddler will talk.
We are conditioned, as communicators, to take up the “silent space” with chatter so we feel more comfortable, but for our young children who are still learning how to process incoming language and might need a little extra time, continuously talking can be overwhelming. This will also give your child an opportunity to initiate communication and then you can let your child take the lead.
I love it when a kiddie comes to my office and offers a topic that he is interested in which will easily facilitate my language goals, “Guess what Nicole? We just saw a firetruck! And it was loud!” I might want to encourage critical thinking, “Oh my goodness…why do you think it was so loud?” “Why is it so important that a fire truck have loud sirens?” or hypothesizing, “Where do you think the truck was going?”
By giving the child an opportunity to comment, a discussion was facilitated with a topic the child loved in which I was able to embed my goals and encourage critical thinking. You can do the same at home—just make sure you give him the opportunity to do so!
2. Have Patience
Did you ever notice when you ask your child a question and he doesn’t respond immediately—you follow up with another question? Maybe you just repeat the first question—or—maybe you switch the wording around a bit.
A rule of thumb I typically suggest to people is to count (in your head) to five. This will give your child enough time to process the question and answer accordingly. Now, if you are sure your child was paying attention and after waiting 5 seconds, he stares at you with wide, blank eyes—he most likely didn’t understand the inquiry.
At that point, you can re-word it so he does. This is also a perfect opportunity to teach the very important skill of asking for help. Many children [when they don’t understand what has been said], just stare. When they do understand, they respond—so this becomes really easy to spot.
When your child gets that “deer in the headlights” look, gently explain to him “Honey, it’s “ok” if you didn’t understand what mommy said, and when that happens I would really like you to tell me so I can say it better.” Then offer the language to your child for him to ask for help (this does not always come naturally)—“You can say ‘I don’t know’ or ‘I need help”.
3. Fill in the Blank
In educational circles, this is also known as the “cloze technique”. Setting up predictable, language routines will foster pride and a feeling of accomplishment in your child. This can be done during most activities—from basic playing to book-reading and singing.
All you have to do is set up a familiar phrase and purposefully leave out the last word, i.e., While singing “the wheels on the bus go round and ____, round and _____.” Then, you can gradually make the task more complicated, i.e., during a favorite book you can exclaim, “Oh, no…look…Dora is crying…she feels ____.” Remember, to cue your child by looking at her and waiting for her response. Once you do this a few times, she will catch on.
4. Sing a Song
I see many children in my office, who can sing a favorite song beautifully, but when it comes to actually talking—they have a more difficult time. This is because singing stimulates a different part of the brain and there is a ton of research that suggests it actually makes language (and speech) learning easier.
5. Don’t Read Books!
Most toddlers love the picture books with their favorite characters and parents then feel obliged to read every word of the book. This is not necessary and many of these books can often be too wordy and confusing for the early learner. Instead, encourage your child to look at the pages and guess what is going on.
Set up a familiar structure to help your child express herself—go through the book and point out familiar nouns/verbs using the phrase, “I see___”… “I see a puppy.” “I see a sun” while pointing to the object. Next, take your child’s finger and put it on an object you are sure she is familiar with and use the cloze procedure (step 4) “I see a _____ (CAT!)”.
When your child becomes familiar with the routine, she will begin to say the phrase by herself, “I see Elmo!” This will encourage early conversational forms which require a back-and-forth of ideas—it sets up the routine of “my turn-your turn” without putting too much emphasis on it.
6. Word of the Week
A your child gets older—pick a word of the week and post it on a chalkboard/bulletin board with simple definitions as well as antonyms and synonyms. During the week, exhaust all possibilities using the word—but remember to always use it appropriately. This will help your child to better understand the word in different contexts and will also help him to generalize this word into his vocabulary.