Thursday 7 February 2019

How to help your child to talk

Learning to talk is an exciting milestone that all parents are keen to see their child reach. Eager parents may try new developments such as baby signing or baby DVDs in a bid to help their child acquire speech and language skills more quickly. However, there is no concrete evidence that shows these do, in fact, boost babies ability to talk.

Parents may wonder if there is anything that can be done to give their child a head start in acquiring speech and language skills. Not only does a child's ability to speak mean that they are able to communicate their needs, wants and feelings, it also helps them to develop relationships with others as well as enabling them to gain knowledge and learn.

While some babies acquire speech and language in a typical way, there are those who do not and I have written about the possible reasons for this HERE. Speech and language delay is quite a common problem. Locke et al. (2002) found that '50% of children in areas of social disadvantage start school with language delay' and this will significantly impact their ability to learn. 

Whether you are the parent of a baby or the parent of an older child who has speech and language delay, this article will give you some strategies that will help your child to learn to talk.

I have created a successful online course for parents of 0-5 year olds with tips and advice on how to boost your child's speech and language development, whether it be because they have a language delay or you want to prevent a language delay occurring. You can find out more in the link below.

CLICK HERE >> I want to help my child to talk

For now, continue reading to learn some strategies you can use today to help your child to talk.


When parents speak to their baby, they often use exaggerated speech called parentese (or motherese). This child-directed speech helps babies to tune into language because it is different to typical speech in a number of ways. Firstly, there is more variation in rhythm and intonation and this captures a baby's attention. It is often slower and words and phrases are repeated. This combination of things means that parentese is a brilliant tool to help a baby learn speech and language skills and the best news is you are most likely doing it already! Parents often find they naturally talk this way to their babies and young children. For more information about baby talk, including the best and worst ways to speak to your baby, click HERE.


This is a technique used by adults when talking to babies about small objects. When adults do this, they often move the object around by twisting or shaking it to the rhythm of parentese. This is extremely helpful as it makes baby attend to the object they are talking about and facilitates their learning. However, this technique is only useful until the child is around 15 months old. After this point, they will no longer benefit from motionese.

Face to face interaction

When I was training to be a speech and language therapist, I used to go into children's centres to talk to parents with young babies about how to help their babies to talk. I was surprised at the number of parents who spoke about screentime, one mother even going as far as to tell me about her four month old baby's favourite television programme! 

Unfortunately, speech and language therapists no longer carry out this preventative work which no doubt will lead to an increase of children with speech and language difficulties but I digress. The point is, babies do not get anything out of being put in front of a screen. They do not learn speech and language from screens until they are older. In fact, studies have shown that babies who watch specific baby DVDs that are aimed at aiding a child's speech and language skills, actually have a lower vocabulary than those who do not! At the start, babies need face to face interaction to learn language. They need a person who will respond to their attempts to communicate and this is something a screen cannot do.

Running commentary

Babies and young children learn language by listening to it in their surrounding environment. Therefore, make sure you are talking as much as possible and giving them the chance to hear it! 

Talk when you are getting them dressed in the morning, 'Your left arm goes in the left sleeve' and, 'Your socks go on your feet'. 

Talk when you are making the breakfast, 'I'm pouring the milk into the bowl'. 

Talk when you are playing, 'The teddy is having a picnic'. 

Talk when you are in the garden, 'I'm watering the flowers'.

Talk when you go shopping, 'We need some yoghurts and some cheese' and, 'Let's put the shopping in the bags'.

Talk constantly. This is called the running commentary, you are giving a running commentary of what you are doing. You may feel slightly silly but it really is very beneficial for your child to be hearing all this language.

Give choices

Once your child becomes a toddler and has some understanding of language, there are a number of things you can do to help your child learn to talk. First of all, make sure you are giving your child lots of choices throughout the day. These could be about anything from asking them what type of snack they would like to which activity they would like to do. 

When it's snack time ask, 'would you like the apple or the orange?'

During play time ask, 'Would you like to play with the cars or the blocks?' 

At bedtime ask, 'Would you like the Thomas book or the Elmer book?' 

You get the picture. The important thing is to get your child communicating with you. It may only be a point at first; they may just reach towards the object they desire. However, do not be put off by this, this is communication after all! They may vocalise, say the first sound of the word or say something unintelligible. Don't worry, this is a good start. 

When you are giving the choices make sure you have the objects in your hands, one in each hand. When you say the word, 'apple' for example, hold the object up near your mouth. This will direct your child's gaze to the object and, because it is situated by your mouth, they will also be looking at your mouth forming the word when you say it. Repeat this for the second choice remembering to hold the first object away from your face as you name the second. If the child does not answer you can try this a few more times to see if it triggers a response. 

Short, simple phrases

It may be useful to talk to them in shorter phrases than you are used to. This will help with their understanding and also help them to pick up and learn key words.

Instead of saying, 'I've told you a thousand times not to hit other children because you could hurt them and it's very naughty. You are in so much trouble now. Why don't you ever listen to me when I'm talking to you?' try saying, 'No hitting. Hitting hurts. Please listen to me.'

Expand on what they say

If your child is still at the one word stage and you are trying to help them move on from this, try expanding on what you hear them say. 

If they say 'car', you say, 'The big blue car' or, 'The car is driving'.

If they say 'apple', you say, 'Would you like to eat an apple?' or, 'You are eating your apple' or 'Apples are tasty'.

If they say 'flower' you say 'The bright, yellow flower' or 'Smell this flower'. 

They may be using short phrases but you wish them to try and expand them into fuller sentences.

If they say 'teddy sleeping' you say, 'The teddy is sleeping in his bed'.

If they say, 'hurt foot door' you say 'Did you hurt your foot on the door?'

If they say, 'leaves fall tree' you say 'The leaves are falling off the tree'.

Although you are trying to expand on what they are saying, try not to use so much language that they become overwhelmed.

Whatever you do, do not force your child to repeat a word or phrase or copy what you are saying. That can be very frustrating and upsetting for a child who is trying their hardest to talk. The point is to model what the correct word or phrase is and, hopefully, by listening to you they will pick it up. Modelling is the key word here. Model the desired speech and language. Be a communication role model for your child. 

Don't forget to click the link below if you would like information on my online course that will help you to help your child to talk.

Additional Articles of Interest

Why isn't my child talking yet?



  1. Great tips here, modelling is so important. It can be a worry when your child doesn't talk until later.

  2. I am a developmental psycholinguist specialising in first language acquisition, so I also find myself often talking with parents about their children's language development. From now on I'll direct them to your blog post :)

    1. Brilliant. Thanks a lot :) I hope this post can help parents and children who are struggling with this.

  3. What perfect timing Im just at this stage with my son so lots of great tips in your post , thanks k x

    1. You're welcome :) I really hope these tips can help :)

  4. These are some great tips...I have always involved my son in our conversations and even though he was a bit late to talk there is no stopping him now

    Laura x

    1. Glad to hear it. They normally do catch up in the end :)

  5. very reassuring, my son said very little until he was about 3, he is now 8 and sometimes I wish he would stop talking #WhatsYourWeekend

    1. Hehe. Yes once they start they don't stop!

  6. Sounds like great tips. I used to talk constantly to my son and he turned out to be an early speaker, it was a little more difficult with my twins, but they still did well. My twin nephews are 2 and a half and not really talking yet, so this may help them.
    Thanks for sharing #LetKidsBeKids

    1. Yes I'm sure it could help them. Hope it's beneficial :)

  7. Thank you for sharing - these sound like great tips. My eldest was a little slow to start talking (although she signed so was able to communicate) but once she got going there was no stopping her. I've always kept up a running commentary with both but my youngest at 16 months is already at the stage that her sister was at 2 - I think it's probably from hearing her big sister chattering away all the time!

    1. My youngest was a quick talker too and I'm sure having an older sister who is a complete chatterbox helped :)


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