As a parent, one of the most exciting things to see is your little one starting to talk! Whether their first word is Mumma, Dadda, or Baba (their toy rabbit, of course!) there are so many words that you hope your little one will start saying over time.
While children are great at absorbing language on their own, just by being around you and hearing you communicate with others, there are a lot of things you can do as a parent to help your child learn to talk.
Assuming that there are no significant developmental conditions or delays impacting your child’s ability to acquire language, there are lots of helpful language stimulation techniques you can use at home (and in your everyday life!) to help your child learn to talk.
Today, we’re going to explore five practical ways you can help your child learn to talk. Keep on reading!
5 Practical Ways to Help Your Child Learn to Talk
#1: Narrate During Shared Activities
Sure, you might not narrate quite like Morgan Freeman, but there are a lot of benefits to narrating what’s going on when you are completing shared activities with your little one. In the Speech Pathology world, we refer to this language stimulation technique as ‘Self-Talk’ or ‘Parallel Talk’ – depending on whose actions you’re narrating. If you’re describing what your little one is doing, that’s Parallel Talk. If you’re describing what you’re doing, that’s Self-Talk!
This technique is simple to implement, and you can use it in just about any situation. For example, you might be playing with toy cars with your little one. You can narrate what they’re doing with the car – ‘you’re driving the car’, ‘the car is driving down the street’, ‘the car has bumped into the other car!’ – or you can describe what you’re doing – ‘mummy is pushing the car’, ‘daddy has a red car’.
It may feel funny at first, but this narration is actually exposing your child to a lot more language than they may otherwise get! You’re using sentences to describe things that they can see and are participating in, so it’s more likely they’re going to engage with the language you’re using. They’ll also be more likely to see the relationship between the words and the items/objects/setting too.
#2: Play People Games Together
Playing games is a big part of what we do in speech therapy with little ones – and for good reason! Nothing engages a child quite like a game. But the best kinds of games for language stimulation are actually a lot simpler and more straightforward than you may think.
People games are repetitive, simple games best played with two or more people. They’re things like peek-a-boo and ‘this little piggy went to market’ that we can all remember from our own childhood. The reason people games are so good for helping your child learn to talk is that they create opportunities for your little one to talk! People games motivate your little one to seek out another person to engage with in order to have fun and play a game.
This motivation to play and engage in something fun is really helpful for encouraging language use.
#3: Read a Book Together
A daily routine that can make a positive impact on your child’s language skills is reading together! Whether you choose to read together in the morning or at night before bed, finding time to read aloud will help to expose your child to a greater vocabulary. When you’re reading with your little one, try to play around with your voice by giving certain characters different voices, and emphasising by increasing your volume to highlight certain words. All of this will make the reading experience an engaging and interactive one.
#4: Expand on What They’re Already Saying
Is your little one already starting to say a few words? Help them grow their vocabulary and stimulate language acquisition by expanding on what they’ve said. For example, if your child is playing with their toy cars and they say “car” you could expand on it by saying “it’s a car” or “here’s the car” or “drive the car” depending on what their intended meaning was. This is a really simple strategy that you can use in just about any scenario with your little one. The more practice, the more natural this will feel!
#5: Pause and Wait
So far, the strategies that we’ve been sharing to help your child learn to talk have involved you (the parent/caregiver) to be talking. But, for this one, we are actually going to encourage you to slow down – pause – and wait for the child to respond.
The simple act of pausing and waiting for your little one to finish a part of a song, finish your sentence, or reply to a question or comment, can encourage your little one to speak up and fill that gap.
Expectant pauses like this promote the balance of speaking turns between caregiver and child, and it has been shown to be an effective strategy in facilitating turn-taking as well as supporting language use.
Now it’s time to put what you’ve learned into action! Note down one or two strategies that you can start practicing at home (or at the park) with your little one over the next week. If you want to take it a step further, take notes and keep track of when you use the strategies and what words or phrases you focus your attention.
For more information on how you can support your child as they learn to talk (particularly if they’re finding it a little tricky!) take a look at our parent education group therapy program, TalkEase.