Simply exchanging words with your toddler is the most powerful way to foster language development. A 2009 article in the journal Pediatrics points out that a two-sided conversation is more powerful for language acquisition than being read to or watching television.

Below you will find some key aspects of toddler language development, ways to take full advantage of opportunities for conversational learning, and a few known barriers to language development.

A few things to keep in mind about your toddler’s listening and talking abilities:

  • The number of words that a toddler can say varies widely—between as much as 75-500 words.
  • Toddlers understand more words than they can say.
  • Toddlers express most things in the present, as opposed to past or future.
  • Late toddlers can accurately use the words “my” and “mine” instead of only using their name, such as saying “Autumn’s book.”

How to support the growth of your toddler’s listening and talking abilities:

  • Holding two-side conversations—Even at this young age, take advantage of your toddler’s developing language to learn what your child is interested in and how he or she feels. Seeking to understand your child through toddler-level conversation builds emotional well-being as well as language skills.
  • Observing conversation—When you are holding your toddler and talking to someone, your little one takes in new words and “catches” the non verbal aspects of conversation, such as eye contact, head titling, and nodding. Your toddler is a keen observer and allowing him to be present while you talk to someone else builds your child’s vocabulary as well as social intelligence.  Toddlers learn new words even when they are not paying direct attention to the conversation.
  • Learning from peers—Toddlers with older siblings typically develop aspects of language, such as “you,” “he,” and “she,” more quickly than oldest or only children. Regardless of your family make up, find opportunities for your toddler to play with children who are more advanced speakers; sophisticated peers are powerful teachers.
  • Pointing to and labeling objects—For early toddlers or toddlers with limited vocabulary, follow your inclination to name objects that you see when you are together. An early conversation begins when your infant or young toddler points to objects. Your child might be pointing to express an interest, ask a question, or point out something of interest. Regardless of the motivation, your prompt response with elaboration teaches your child the back and forth nature of listening and talking.

Potential barriers to the growth of your toddler’s listening and talking:

  • Television viewing
  • Parental depression
  • Persistent ear infections
  • A family history of speech disorders

By Anne Oxenreider

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