At 12 months, children say simple words, such as “mama” and “dada.” By 18 months, many have a vocabulary that consists of up to 10 words, according to the Mayo Clinic. The words that are understood and spoken by a toddler depend largely on the amount of language that he is exposed to on a regular basis; this is especially true when it comes to a toddler’s speech development between the ages of 18 months and 3 years. Armed with a few tricks, you can help teach your toddler to speak and enhance his vocabulary.
You can teach your child the words that you want him to say by using repetition. Repeatedly state the names of objects as you touch or point to them, and say phrases or full sentences aloud as you perform actions or describe things. For example, when your family’s cat walks into the room, point and say “cat” or “Hi, cat.” Keep in mind that children mimic what they hear, so use appropriate vocabulary, and only say things that you want to hear your child say as well. When your toddler hears a word, phrase or sentence often, he commits the speech to memory and repeats what he hears more quickly.
Another strategy for teaching your toddler to speak is to ask him to say words. Don’t oblige when your child points to an object and makes unintelligible sounds. Instead, say the name of the object and ask your child to repeat it. For example, if your child points to his water cup, say: “Water? Do you want water? Say, water.” If your child does not attempt to speak the first few times you try this strategy, simply give him what he wants, and repeat the process in response to subsequent requests.
You are your child’s first and most accessible language-learning tool. Use this to your advantage by habitually stating aloud what you are doing and what you are thinking. As you go through the motions of washing dirty dishes, you might say something like, “I’m going to wash the dishes now. I have to turn the water on first. Now, I have to squeeze some dish soap onto the dirty dishes.” Before you know it, your toddler is going to remind you when it’s time to do the dishes.
Carney Sotto, Ph.D, assistant professor of communications sciences and disorders at the University of Cincinnati, emphasizes the importance of talking to your child -- even before the child begins talking -- as it significantly contributes to language development. Along with narrating your actions, make it a habit to tell your little one what’s on your mind. Mention how beautiful the weather is or how you feel. When it’s lunchtime, say, “I think I’ll have a peanut butter sandwich.” When you let your child know what you’re thinking, it encourages him to speak his mind as well.