How Can I Help My Toddler Learn New Words?
This is a guest blog post written by Stephanie Tuthill, M.A., CCC-SLP, and Becky Chamberlain M.S., CCC-SLP.
It is so exciting when baby starts to talk! Your toddler is developmentally ready to talk around their first birthday, and will start adding new words to their vocabulary in the coming months.
So what do you do if the new words aren’t coming? As speech-language pathologists, we want to share our favorite tips and tricks to get your little one talking!
If your child is ready to talk, here are some simple things you can do at home to encourage language development.
1. Follow their Lead
Think of your little one as the director, leading you during playtime! Your job is to pay attention to what they are interested in and follow their lead. If your child looks at their train, you can talk about the train. If they push something, talk about it!
In contrast, if your child struggles with what to do, try picking up a toy and playing by yourself to model how to play with it. Playing can get your little one involved without telling them what to do!
Here are two different ways you can make conversation with your little one, so they start using new words in a natural way.
Parallel Talk: This is when you are talking about what your child is doing! It could be what your toddler is looking or pointing at, playing with, or seems interested in. You are merely providing the words, or narrating, their actions.
Self Talk: This is talking about what you are doing! You are providing the language for your feelings, actions, and what you see. Your little one gets to absorb all the excellent language you are using.
2. Verbal Routines
Routines are sets of predictable activities that always happen in the same order. They are helpful in everyday life when we need to get things done. For example, a morning routine can be helpful for a busy family that needs to get ready for the day ahead and get out the door on time. Each person that participates in the routine has a part.
So what is a verbal routine? This routine is a strategy to teach children new words and language through repetition and predictability. Little ones will communicate with you because the routine is familiar, and they always know what comes next! When your child becomes very familiar with a phrase or song because of a verbal routine, you can try pausing at predictable parts and see if your child will fill in the blank!
Examples of verbal routines:
“Goodnight! I . . . love . . . YOU!”
Cleaning up toys
“This is the way we clean our toys, clean our toys, clean our toys . . .”
“Clean up, clean up, everybody everywhere . . .”
“1 . . . 2 . . . 3 . . . goooooooooo!”
“Ready . . . set . . . gooooooooo!”
“Where’s mommy?” “Peek!”
Repeat, repeat, repeat! Your child needs to hear words over and over again to learn them, and even more to say the word back. The more often you can use a new word, the better! Research shows that using a new word frequently (versus sporadically) helps your little one learn vocabulary faster!
For example, if you’re trying to teach your child the word “more,” you can say: “I have more milk! Do you want more? Let’s put more milk in your cup!” By saying the word more three sentences in a row, we provide repeated exposure.
Place emphasis on the word you want your little one to use! Yes, you can repeat the word, but your toddler is more likely to pay attention to the word if you make it stand out from the rest. Slow down and exaggerate the word you want your child to notice. If the word applies to an emotion, change the tone of your voice to help express the meaning.
Use gestures, actions, or objects when you say the word! The more meaning you can attach to a new word, the better. Linking a new word to a gesture, action, or object is one more way that you can help your child learn new vocabulary.
Examples of repetition:
- Say “open” while you open a box!
- Shake your head “no” while you say the word.
- Hold your arms up while you say “up!”
With these tips, your little one will learn and use new words in their everyday speech, which helps to build a strong foundation for their future communication skills.
About the authors:
Stephanie Tuthill and Becky Chamberlain provide expert information on speech and language development in children. They offer communication tips, strategies, resources, webinars, and more! They provide research-based information to their followers on social media, as well as firsthand experience and knowledge as moms of three children each!
Stephanie Tuthill, M.A., CCC-SLP, is an ASHA-certified speech language pathologist (SLP) living in the Chicagoland area. She has her bachelor’s degree in special education and deaf education from Vanderbilt University and her master’s degree in SLP from Northwestern University.
Becky Chamberlain M.S., CCC-SLP, is an ASHA-certified speech language pathologist (SLP) living in the Chicagoland area. She studied at Florida State University and the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, where she received her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in SLP.