How can I ‘teach’ my child to talk?

So, you’ve finally caught up on all that sleep you missed out on in your baby’s early stages and now you’re eagerly waiting for your child’s first words right!? Well, what should we expect?

  • Kids should say their first words at around 12 months of age

  • By 18 months of age, they should use between 5-20 words with meaning, and imitating simple words.

  • By 2 years old, kids should use between 50-200 words and begin joining combine 2 words together (e.g. eat cookie).

  • By 3 years old, they should be using around 500

Of course, this is just a guideline. Some kids develop a little faster and some a little slower (especially boys!)

Now that we know what to expect, lets talk about what we can do to help our little cherubs learn to talk.


Unlike what many think, learning how to talk is not innate – meaning that we will not just wake up one day with a big vocabulary. Like any other skill, children must learn words and learn how to use them.


Don’t worry; it’s not as hard as it sounds! You don’t need to set aside times to actually ‘teach’ your child. They will learn the most from interacting with you during the activities you do every day – like bath time, playtime, reading books, singing together, driving in the car, going to the shops, and much more.


In fact, you may already be using some (or all) of these strategies. The idea is to use them more often and more consistently so your child can learn to communicate from every single interaction they have with you.



5 simple strategies to promote early language development



Modelling means to demonstrate. If your child is not using words, interpret what he/she is trying to communicate and then say the word for them. For example, if your child reaches for a red toy car you could model: “car… a red car”.


You can also model by talking to yourself. At first, you might feel silly, but it’s worth it! Use simple phrases and sentences to talk about what you’re doing and thinking. For example: “My feet are dirty. I need to wash them. I’ll turn on the tap and rinse them with water. Look, now they’re all clean!”



By getting down on your child’s level and being ‘face to face’ with them, it is much easier to have a connection with them. By being at their level, it is easier to see what they are interested in and see their attempts at communication. Being close to your child makes it easier for them to watch what you are doing or saying, and allows them the chance to copy what you are doing.



Your child will be much more likely to engage with you if you are doing an activity of their choice! By observing your child’s interest and focus of attention, you are able to join in and enter the child’s world. The easiest way to do this is to join them during play.


In order to keep them engaged with you, make sure to use affect.  For example over-exaggeration of your facial expressions, movements and your voice. Don’t be afraid to be silly!



The most important and perhaps most difficult step in encouraging children to communicate is taking the time to observe, wait and listen. When we do, we have time to see signs of communication that are easily missed, and when we are tuned into what our children are trying to tell us, we can encourage children to say more.



  • Watch your child closely to see the things he/she is interested in, you can then include their interests in what you do together

  • As you observe, watch to see how and why your child communicates and what they respond to

  • What your child does in these situations gives you information about where to start helping them learn to communicate



  • Waiting will give your child enough time to send messages in his/her own way

  • While you may think at times your child is not communicating, it may be that they are not getting the chance to communicate

  • Often, if you don’t rush in, your child will have a chance to do more than you expect

  • Wait expectantly to show your child you are waiting for him/her to do something

  • Waiting can be so difficult! Remind yourself to wait by counting to 10 in your head!



  • Listen to what your child has to say.

  • Initially your child may communicate through gestures instead of words. ‘Listen’ by responding to their gestures or facial expressions.

  • When we listen, we respond in ways that let our children know they have got their message across



Choice making is important because it enables your child to have control over their environment and teaches the child that communication is for a reason, that is, we communicate to express our needs and wants as well as our feelings. We can use choice making in many everyday of situations.  For example, if your child appears to be hungry or thirsty and is reaching towards the fridge you could hold up a couple of food items or drinks and ask them which one they want.

o   Begin by providing a choice of two items e.g. games/toys, food, drink etc.

o   Show the child to two items while naming them e.g. ‘want juice’ (showing them the juice) ‘or want milk’ (showing them the milk).

o   Hold up both of the objects for the child while you wait for them to make a choice.

o   Allow the child to indicate the item of their choice. (Note: At first your child may only look at or point to the item that they want.)

o   If you know that your child can say the word of the object that they want then wait for them to say the word before they are given the object.

o   It is important that you give them the item of their choice immediately.

o   Reinforce your child’s choice e.g. say ‘juice, want juice’ while giving the juice to the child.

o   Praise the child for making a choice e.g. ‘good choosing!’, ‘good pointing’ or ‘good talking!’

Remember, you are the most important people in your child’s life and you have the strongest relationship with your child, therefore, you are perfect the job. Happy Talking!


Brittany Bates – Speech Pathologist