How to Teach a Child to Speak

All kids develop at their own pace, but there's a difference between "the strong and silent type" and a child who has a speech delay. Depending on your child's age and development, you can help encourage a better vocabulary and communication skills by giving your child plenty of opportunities to speak up. If your little one is still struggling, a speech therapist can help give you the tools to improve speech and address possible delays.

Give your full attention to your child when she's talking. This acts as an instant reward for speaking up and helps improve her communication confidence. If possible, give her signs that you're really listening: look her in the eye, ask plenty of questions and use body language, such as leaning forward or nodding, to show that you're interested in what she's saying.

Acknowledge your child's attempts at speech and then model proper grammar or pronunciation, suggests the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association 1. Never mock or punish your child for not pronouncing a word properly. Instead, fulfill the request while repeating the proper words and pronunciation instead. If your child asks for "pasketti," you can say, "Great idea! Let's have spaghetti for dinner tonight."

Read together, anything from picture books to novels, as your child gets older. Pointing out familiar objects, reading books about the same characters and simply hearing you pronounce words can help your child learn about language and vocabulary, suggests the University of Michigan Health System 2. You can even have your child repeat back certain phrases, practice reading or use nursery rhymes to practice words.

Ask your child open-ended questions that invite discussion and communication. Instead of simply asking your child how her day was, try asking her to name the best three things about her day or who her best friend at school is and why. These types of questions her talking so she can practice her speech skills.

Talk to your pediatrician if you think your child has a speech delay. According to, a child as young as 2 should be able to follow simple commands and should be understood by most people by age 4. Your pediatrician can refer you to a speech therapist who can help your child improve vocabulary, clarity and other speech-related issues.