elevating child care

Ten Best Ways To Encourage Toddlers To Talk

First, let’s clarify something that will hopefully bring relief: Encouraging our children to talk isn’t about chattering incessantly to them in order to expose them to as many words as possible (30,000 by 3 years old is the magic number, according to some experts).  
If you hear this advice, don’t listen, because your babies won’t either. Honestly, can you think of anything more off-putting than someone blabbering for the sake of blabbering?  Even our adoring babies, the captive audiences they are, will tune out (because they’re unable to throw something or ask you to stop).

On the other hand, it’s true that encouraging language development is about the quality and quantity of the words we speak. The great news is that both come naturally when we perceive babies as whole people — able communicators ready to be informed about the happenings in their lives, and in turn share their thoughts and feelings. Comprehend this simple truth, interact naturally, and we’ve got the language lessons nailed.

Here are some specifics…

1. Two-way communication from the beginning.

From the time our babies are born, they need to know that we not only tell them what’s happening (“I’m going to pick you up now”), but also that we pay attention to their non-verbal signals and listen to their sounds and cries. If we’re unsure, we wait before reacting. We ask, give the child time to take our question in, and listen again. We make every attempt to understand what our babies might be communicating. We won’t always be successful in the beginning, but we’ll improve with each try. Meanwhile our children hear our profoundly important message: “We want you to tell us what you need and feel.  We believe you are capable of communicating with us, and we will do our best to understand you.”

This is vital. Only we can open this door and wholeheartedly welcome our baby’s communication.

2. Use your authentic voice and first person.

Many believe in using mother-ese, so I realize this is controversial, but here’s what I’ve found… Talking to our babies in our regular, authentic voice (but a little slower) reminds us that we are talking to a whole person.  It’s easier and not as likely to induce headaches (which I know, because I talk to my dog in mother-ese). It models for babies the natural tone and language we want them to adopt.  The more they hear language spoken properly, the sooner they will learn and try speaking it.

Children sense inauthenticity a mile away. The children I know who aren’t used to being talked to in mother-ese feel disrespected and talked down to when adults speak to them that way.

Using first person rather than “Mommy loves Johnny” is a minor detail, but it is another way to remind ourselves to talk person-to-person with our baby.  Why speak differently to a baby or toddler who is immersed in the process of learning our language than we would to an older child or adult? This makes no sense to me.  Never doubt for a moment that babies know who Mommy, Daddy and Johnny are.  They don’t need the constant reminders. Also, children understand and use pronouns earlier when they are modeled.

3. Talk about real, meaningful things.

In other words, instead of teaching words, use them.  Holding up a ball, pointing to it and saying “ball” is far less effective teaching (besides being a gargantuan bore, as far as I’m concerned) than commenting in context on a relevant (and, therefore, meaningful) event. “You moved all the way to that red ball and touched it and then it rolled further away.”

Babies learn best , as we all do, when they care, and in this example the baby would probably care about his involvement with the words ‘moved’, ‘red ball’, ‘touched’, ‘rolled’ and ‘away’.  That’s six words right there, but who’s counting? (Oh, the experts…that’s right.)

Note: I’m not suggesting constant narration while babies play. The best way to gauge whether or not to comment while our child is engaged in an activity is to wait for him or her to communicate an interest in our response, which young children usually do by looking at us.  (For a brief video demonstration of this, please see “Teaching Babies Language And Much, Much More While They Play“)

4. Read books and tell stories responsively

Reading books responsively means ditching any agenda and following our child’s interest. Let the baby or toddler stay on one page for five minutes if she wants to and talk to her about everything you see there. Let her skip pages, look at the book upside down, and not finish the story (or even look at the book at all) if that’s what she chooses.  Trust your child’s readiness, allow reading to be child-led, and we encourage a love of books. And children who love books love and use language.

If you’re the creative type (which I’m usually not at the end of the day), tell stories. I’ll never forget the stories my dad told about Mary and her dog Zip.  Well, actually I don’t remember anything about them except that I thoroughly enjoyed that attention from my dad.

5. Slow down

I forget this all the time. We should probably put “Slow Down” signs all over the house when our children are small. There are so many good reasons to slow down around children, especially in regard to language.  When we slow down, children can listen and understand.

6. Relax and be patient

Parent worries are usually felt by young children and don’t create the ideal climate for taking big developmental strides forward.  Talking takes courage.  Relax, be patient and trust your child’s inborn timetable. Many patient parents I know have experienced their child’s verbal skills emerge overnight – a language “explosion”.

If your child seems delayed in his or her ability to comprehend language, or seems atypical in several areas of development, get an assessment.

7. Don’t test

What children need most of all to be able to start talking (or do just about anything else) is our trust.  When we test, we aren’t trusting or respecting.  Magda Gerber’s rule of thumb was, “Don’t ask children a question you know the answer to.” (In other words, “Where is your nose?”)

As excited as we get about sharing the adorable way our toddler pronounces his latest words (“Say ‘turtle’ for Grandma, Johnny!”), performance pressure makes toddlers more likely to clam up.

8.  Babbling is talking

When babies or toddlers seem to be talking gibberish, they are usually saying words, so ignoring them or babbling back isn’t as respectful or encouraging as saying, “You’re telling me something. Are you telling me about the cat that just walked by?” Or, “You’ve got a lot to say today. “

Beware of these common language discouragers

9. Corrections

When children are trying out language, they are inclined to get colors, animals, and other things “wrong”, and adults are inclined to correct these mistakes. Don’t.  It’s unnecessary and discouraging.  With our patience and modeling, toddlers will discern the difference between dogs and bears, red and orange, etc., soon enough.

In Learning All The Time, John Holt explains: “When children first learn to talk, they will often use the name of one object to refer to a whole class of similar objects.” In other words, when a toddler refers to every animal as a “dog”, she isn’t indicating that she doesn’t know the difference.

“If a distinguished person from a foreign country were visiting you, you would not correct every mistake he made in English, however much he might want to learn the language, because it would be rude. We do not think of rudeness or courtesy as being applicable to our dealings with very little children. But they are.” –John Holt

10.  Invalidating thoughts and feelings

Let’s say your toddler asks (in her unique way) to change her diaper, but you check and she isn’t wet. Or maybe your boy says “lellon”, and you know he loves melon, but he just ate.  Rather than reflexively responding “you don’t need your diaper changed” or “you can’t be hungry, you just ate”, accept and acknowledge the communication without the slightest bit of judgment.  “Oh, are you saying you want to change your diaper?” (Wait for a response.) “Yes? Well, I can certainly understand wanting to do that again. It’s fun to spend that time together. But you are dry and so we won’t be changing you right now. Maybe in a few minutes.”

“Are you thinking about melon?” (Wait for a response.) “Are you hungry for melon?  (Wait.) Oh, you’re not hungry? Are you enjoying saying “melon”?  That’s a fun word to say, isn’t it?”

When we listen to and respect these early attempts at communication, children feel encouraged to keep talking. They’ll sense that their most random thoughts, feelings and ideas are welcome to our ears.  And chances are excellent we’ll be their favorite confidant for many years to come.

(Note: if you have concerns about your child’s language development, the American Academy of Pediatrics offers helpful guidelines HERE)

I share more about respectful care and natural development in my book:

Elevating Child Care: A Guide to Respectful Parenting

(Photo by Diego Dalmaso on Flickr)

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94 Responses to “Ten Best Ways To Encourage Toddlers To Talk”

  1. As a pediatric speech language pathologist, I must say BRAVO! Excellent post – excellent advice!

    • avatar janet says:

      Melanie, thanks so much! Your corroboration means a lot.

      • Janet what readings do you recommend for me, my 24 month old blabbers and doesn’t say a word. He grunts whenever he wants anything. He is currently receiving speech therapy but he may mimic the therapist on his own time whenever he feels like it and super low so no one can hear him. He is not shy and not stubborn at all, I think he doesn’t like any praise at all and doesn’t want to respond to any direct questions. I have tried animal sounds and cars and trucks and everything else I can think of. What do you think I can do?

        • avatar janet says:

          It sounds like he is uncomfortable being “on the spot”, Eyleen, which is understandable to me. So, I would try to relax and not place so much importance on this.

          • avatar clare says:

            my 24 month old also does say words really, except hie/bye. he babbles a lot tho. i thought it must be because he is home all day with just the nanny so I started taking him to nursery school last month for 3 days a week. he still doesnt have words but I can tell he is trying. If I dont see a change by the end of the year, I was thinking maybe then ill engage a speech therapist. but 2 of my nephews took forever to talk & they are fine so maybe its a genetic thing or something.

      • avatar vanessa says:

        Thank you Janet for your instrumental advice. I am concerned about my 3yr old who has problems with enunciation and does not speak in sentences yet. After reading your advice you have aided me in my continued dedication of helping him speak. Your advice made sense and it cleared alot of questions for me. My son does not go to a daycare and he spends the majority of his day at home with either myself or his father. I will definitely heed your advice.

    • avatar Susan says:

      My boy now 23 months does have developmental delays which I noticed at 15 months now Dr. confirmed. We are awaiting his first lesson but am in the mists of utter frustration on all sides. Any websites or things to do at home while waiting? He scored below on all except physical ability. Thank you!!

  2. avatar Deborah says:

    I will have to share this with my daughter. I think verbal skills are going to develop late for my grandson. You can just watch his little mind processing all the time so he is definitely paying attention but for now he prefers to just take it all in!

    • avatar janet says:

      And you know as well as I do that that is a great sign of intelligence. One of the best gifts we can give children is trust…and time.

  3. avatar Brett says:

    As always, thanks for bringing calm, sound thought to some things that can bring a little frustration here and there.

    • avatar janet says:

      My pleasure, Brett, that’s what I hope to be here for.

  4. avatar torie says:

    I appreciate your post and the ideas in it, but I don’t think it’s necessary to criticize the ‘experts’ who conduct basic research on child development. The type of basic research that tells us that kids who hear x number of words by a certain number of years of age have strong language skills isn’t intended to mean you, personally, should necessarily talk, talk, talk to your babies. In most cases, the researchers would very happily tell you that what they measured is a proxy for something not very easily measureable. The research is intended to give us a starting point to wonder what’s going on with kids who don’t have strong language skills, and what we can do to support them and their families. We can use that kind of research to begin to wonder: why do we see differences? Are we concerned about these differences? Do these differences have a long-term impact on kids’ lives? What supports do parents need to build children’s language skills? What do childcare providers need to know to do their jobs well? There are things we can do as a society to help families with young children–parent education classes, requirements that childcare providers have training in child development, etc. Basic research is just a first step in building up the case for policy change that supports families.

    • avatar janet says:

      Torie, I agree with you. I’m not criticizing the experts who conduct this research, which I agree is important…but I am concerned about some of the conclusions experts are making. Some of these trusted sources seem to misunderstand language development.

      Parents hear “speak 30,000 words to your child by age 3″ and take this to heart. This is the wrong focus. My hope is to alleviate these concerns and help parents focus on what really matters for language development (and every kind of development). Instead of worrying about amounts of words, respect your child. Talk to your babies as you would another person and you’ll share many more than 30,000 words easily, naturally, meaningfully, and joyfully.

      • avatar janet says:

        Torie, here’s a comment on my Facebook page that exemplifies my concern about some of the expert advice:

        “For a moment, I despaired! 30,000 words by 3 years. I was thinking to myself as a stay at home mom, I would need to stick her in daycare, in baby and toddler programs, I would need to organize TONS of playdate – a LOT more than I already do.. then I read on. :)”

  5. avatar Lisa Sunbury says:

    Janet,

    I love this post and your tips for encouraging toddlers to talk. As you noted, even as tiny babies, children DO communicate with us through their nonverbal body language, and their babbling.I’ve found the more we show and tell them that we are listening and really want to understand them, the more eager and adept they become at communicating with us.

    I’m glad you addressed “mother-ese” , because I know many “experts” say it’s natural and recommend it, but I’ve never found it necessary or helpful to talk to a baby in a “false” high voice- to me it seems condescending.

    One thing you didn’t talk about in this post was using (and/or teaching) “baby signs” with non- hearing impaired babies. I have some pretty strong feelings about this way of communicating with babies and toddlers, and it is a topic that often comes up when I’m working with parents.

    There has been some recent research that indicates that using signs with babies and toddlers somehow enhances or advances their ability to verbally communicate, and/or relieves a toddler’s frustration at not being able to communicate wants and needs… I don’t necessarily think this is a reason to teach babies “sign language” (I put sign language in quotes because, as I understand it, “baby sign” books and classes are not teaching American Sign Language, which is recognized as an official language, but are some dumbed down version of ASL.).

    Anyway, I’d love to hear your opinion on this topic.

    • avatar janet says:

      Hi Lisa! Since you’re the one with strong feelings, I can’t wait to hear yours! I don’t have enough experience with baby sign language to have an educated opinion or strong feelings, but I’ll tell you what I think. On the positive side, I like anything that encourages perceiving babies as the able communicators I know them to be. So, if sign language helps parents recognize this, great.

      Magda Gerber helped us recognize this without sign language. And one of the things I love about her approach is that it recognizes that babies are self-learners who don’t need language instruction. They learn everything they need to know through respectful, responsive interactions with their caregivers and independent play. Personally, I love that clarity and simplicity and I know that it works…beautifully.

      If parents enjoy teaching sign language, that might be a great reason to do it. Does it help babies? It might, but I don’t believe it is necessary.

      The little bit of experience I have with baby sign language is in my Parent/Infant and Toddler Guidance Classes. My current toddler groups are talkers. Some of these parents might have used sign language, but the children don’t use it in class. In past classes, the children who “signed” did not speak. That might be coincidence…since there weren’t enough for a scientific sampling.

      I guess my advice would be to do it if it interests you and you enjoy it, but not to advance your baby’s language development.

      • avatar Antje says:

        I use a few signs with my daughter. Currently we use the signs for food, water, and toilet. My daughter has also caught on that shaking her head means “no”, although we have never made any effort to teach her that. Other signs that I’m using but she doesn’t use consistently include milk, all done, diaper, please and thank you.

        I don’t intend to go overboard with sign language, as it’s not a replacement for spoken language in a hearing family. (I’m using ASL signs, which I do know at a conversational level, but I wouldn’t know what other parents are using.) I still speak normally with her, I just like having a few basic signs available for her to use if chooses to do so. No pressure!

        The one thing that is difficult for me is when she asks for food at a time when I have to say no, but that’s hardly a problem specific to using sign language =)

      • avatar Julie says:

        I always had the idea that it would be nice to teach my daughter to sign because I watched my niece and nephew seem to enjoy and benefit from having that as a tool to communicate before they were verbal. I found, though, like so many ideas I held prior to discovering RIE, it has been completely unnecessary for us. I think because I was inspired to tune in and observe my baby from an age too early to teach signing, we learned to communicate on a variety of levels that were clear and easy and worked for us. They continue to be so, as she is still pre-verbal. At this point, the idea of signing feels a little ‘clunk-y’, whereas the variety of ways we continue to discover to communicate are fluid and fun.

      • avatar hakkawegian says:

        I agree that, like with so many things, it will depend on how you use it and approach it, not to mention on the individuals themselves. For us, using signs has been great! And really very fascinating.

        I have never been good at just understanding my daughter’s every need or all her subtle signs – because for me that is really what we are ‘reading’ when we are observing them and then can know what he or she is conveying to us.

        So for me I thought, why not use signs while talking to her (though I didn’t sign every time I said the words either, nor many words really, just some key ones), so that she could choose to use these tools to communicate more easily – before she is able to do so as spoken words?

        I do nothing differently in terms of speaking just because I use a few signs. They accentuate our communication, almost like expressive gestures with your hands (well, exactly like that). For me, her pointing to something, often with some vocalization, is a sign. One all of us I am sure understand.

        It is no different with the other signs we use.

        And you should have seen how *excited* she was the first time I caught that she was signing. She was 10 months old, and suddenly a lightbulb went off (for me) and I realized she had been signing our ‘water’ sign for probably the past month, but I just hadn’t caught it that what she was doing was ‘water’. Same as I am sure sometimes a sound they say suddenly clicks with us and we think “oh! She’s saying ‘so-and-so'”. She literally lept into my lap and bounced up and down laughing. I also caught her ‘potty’ sign a few minutes later for the first time, and the two signs together led to her drinking loads of water and peeing on her potty about 7 times within the next 3 hours or so, because she was so excited to be able to communicate so clearly with me.

        She now does about 12-15 signs, with her latest three being ones I only did a few times over the last couple weeks. One is ‘book’, which she started saying verbally and signing at the same time. The other is bath (she loves taking baths, but previously I have never been able to know that that is what she wanted to do if it wasn’t something I brought up), and then ‘itsy bitsy spider’ because she wants to hear the song (also a sign she did a week or so before I caught on).

        She has evolved the signs, refining them and tweeking them – not towards how I do them, but through the way I do them. This is one of the things that really fascinates me.

        I don’t repeat the signs with voice and hands when I talk with her about her statements or requests anymore (“You want water [+sign], let me go get you some”) like I did in the beginning, but just with voice, because I know the links are strong, even with new signs – though if I am asking her something that is ‘new’ I will use the sign as well.

        I don’t think it has negatively affected her speach at all. She said ‘hot’ before she did any signs (that I caught), and as mentioned she started signing and saying book at the same time, and says a few other words now – but a lot less than she signs.

        The signing, in our experience, has empowered her.

        • avatar Lisa says:

          Our signing experience was similar. We signed ASL signs along with our speech since my daughter was able to focus her eyes. It certainly didn’t impede her speech – she was speaking in 6-8 word sentences at 18 months and was putting two signs together into small sentences before her words began to emerge.

          I don’t really like the idea of “baby signs” necessarily, only because if you are going to sign, I think it should be the correct language (I equate “baby sign” to “mother-ese”) but I think finding different ways to communicate with our babies – whether it through signs, gestures, words, looks, what-have-you – is awesome :)

      • avatar Loralee says:

        Janet,
        I think that baby sign language can help language development with hearing children if it is used in a very specific way. As an early childhood educator I have learned that kids remember songs which come with a fingerplay much faster and easier than when they are givent the words alone. By using baby sign, or any unique hand gestures when you talk to your child, not as a subsititute for talking, but saying the words and giving the sign will reinforce the word in their mind. Most often what happens in my experience is the child learns both the word and the sign at the same time, but they often learn both sooner than their peers who do not learn sign.

      • avatar Juliette says:

        Our son is a prolific signer and I wrestle a bit with how much to encourage it.

        We tried a few signs when he was on the slow side with language development (he wasn’t saying any definite words at 16 months) and he caught on absolutely straight away, so we taught him some more and he probably knows about 70 or 80 now at 19 months and says maybe 5 or 6 words.

        The main things which have struck me are:

        – that teaching him the signs felt effortless – he picked them up pretty much instantly and was somehow ‘ready’ for signing
        – that it really makes me appreciate quite how much he understands in a way that I never would if he didn’t sign – I hadn’t realised exactly how much was going on in his head and it has given me a wonderful insight into how he sees the world and what is important to him
        – that it helps me recognise words that he says now because he will sign and say them at the same time, that I am pretty sure I would not otherwise not have recognised (he tends to drop the initial consonants from words for some reason)

        On the other hand, I have pretty much stopped teaching him any more signs and don’t really sign myself very much any more even though he still does lots. I’m not sure that was a specially deliberate decision though but more a gradual feeling that talking instead was the right thing to do now.

      • avatar Deb says:

        Janet, I loved this article! Perfect for where we have been with our kids, and still are with our 3-year-old! I do have a comment about baby signing. We have had 2 children with no hearing impairments…but with significant medical and developmental issues. Signing has been a window into their world and minds, as well as a way for them to communicate with us. It has been a beautiful way for them to express themselves when they were unable to use language. Our older son had a trach, vent, and lots of other equipment. He didn’t use spoken language until age 4, and even then he struggled significantly to be understood. Our younger son has always had a LOT to say, but has a neuromuscular disease, so his ability to actually speak has been completely dependent on us finding the right medications and dosages to treat him. He has found baby signs (not real ASL, that’s been too complex and fine motor dependent for both of our kids) to be his best way to communicate his first 2 1/2 years of life. He is over 3 years old now and using speech too and only falls back on signs when he doesn’t have the strength and coordination to speak.
        All this to say, that for some children and families, you have to go with the flow of the situation. I would say for an average infant it probably isn’t necessary. For a child who has any type of issue, it may be the saving grace for both that child and his/her family.
        Much love and thanks to you as you do this amazing work!
        Deb

        • avatar janet says:

          Absolutely, Deb, I couldn’t agree more. Thank you for sharing your experiences.

    • avatar JulieK says:

      Just wanted to add a bit about the baby sign. Not an expert but… we did teach our 1st son a handful of baby signs from about 6 months. By 9-10 months he was signing back to us, asking for milk, signing “please” and thank you (by about 1 year). Now he couldn’t SAY the words out loud yet but what he was learning was a way to communicate until he was able to say the words. It was amazing that he could indicate to us that he understood and could “reply” long before the verbal words were mastered. It really helped us avoid a lot of “frustrations” surrounding when he was hungry or wanted something.
      When he became proficient at talking aloud, he started dropping the signing. However, around 2.5 years old, we let him on occasion watch some Signing Time videos (which are really well crafted, I think), and he picked up the signing again and now at 3.5 he loves to sign words he learned from the videos (he watches less than 1 video per week so it’s VERY easy for kids to pick up the signs and have fun with it).
      I don’t think they are “dumbed down” although I realize they are not learning full ASL as another “language” – but they are learning about using visual cues to make meaning, and developing a kinesthetic way to communicate. I think in addition to aiding communication, learning sign language is fun, and will help my children have more openness towards the deaf when they see them signing in public. They won’t find it strange at all, so I think learning sign (even a little) is just great all around.
      Sorry for the novel.
      As Twain said, (paraphased): I didn’t have time to write a short version.

  6. avatar Meagan says:

    As I started reading this site, and thinking over your ideas, though I didn’t agree with all of them, I have internalized many of them. And speaking to my baby HAS gotten easier as I think in terms of him being able to respond (not hurt by the fact that he gets more responsive as he gets older). I’m a writer, so theoretically I’m supposed to be wordy I guess, but I felt horribly uncomfortable with the constant narration of the world that seems to be the bare minimum recommended education for newborns! Thinking of my baby as actually participating in the conversation helped take the pressure off some. Honestly though? I just don’t talk all that much. Even now, with a one year old, I’m finding so much of how I communicate with him is nonverbal.

    For example, I have to admit, I have always found your descriptions of picking up a baby- of telling/asking them that you are going to pick them up- silly or at least awkward. And then I realized I already do this… I just don’t say it out loud. When I need to pick up my son I put my arms out for him and wait. He’ll put his arms up to me and THEN I pick him up. No words.

    And my baby still has no words of his own. I feel a bit guilty about it, but really I’m not terribly worried about it (yet), because he seems to understand me just fine. Maybe if I were more of a talker he’d be saying “hi” and “mama” but then, his dad was a late talker, so maybe not. I’m trying to get us both out of the house more, because he plays pretty well on his own for long periods of time now, and we spend so much time in silence.

    • avatar Fernanda says:

      Dear Meagan, while reading your comment I felt a strong desire to share a thought with you: being yourself a writer, don´t you just LOVE silence? Isn´t it the perfect time to tune in and start writing? I imagine your baby can “read” you too! He also values and appreciates silence, and enjoys communicating without the need of spoken words. He´ll start talking one day, and believe me, you´ll beg him to stop :)
      In the mean while, I hope you and your baby enjoy the pure calmness that only silence can be found (unless you´re some sort of saint, which I´m not). I´m mother of 3 quite talkative boys. Believe me, I know what I´m saying!

      • avatar Meagan says:

        Love it! And yes, I AM appreciating the silence, I just feel guilty sometimes because it wouldn’t be parenting if there wasn’t something to feel guilty about. Besides, he’s its never truly silent, he plays while chatting to himself with a constant stream of lovely babble. In fact, I know when he goes quiet, I’d better stop whatever I’m doing and figure out what he’s found to stick in his mouth (fortunately it’s usually just a lost cheerio).

    • avatar Hope says:

      Your post has really helped me not feel like I’m alone. I’m a writer too, and i often find myself not talking too often (I’m a SAHM too). My 2 year old isn’t talking yet and I have often felt very guilty for not talking incessantly at him all day everyday so that he’ll talk. I guess it’s just nice to know another mom out there is going through something similar. He’s in EI Speech therapy, he’s able to communicate very effectively non-verbally but he’s got no words.

  7. Thank you! I was wondering if I should be narrating his play; but when he’s into his book/toy/ etc. I don’t want to distract him. I also marvel at the way he “reads” books all by himself. He’ll go through a bunch of them reading them to himself (he’s 9 months)…it kind of reminds me of a book Already Ready (but that’s for writing with young kids) in that he’s “Already Ready Reading”.

    I think respecting him by talking to him when he’s ready or looks at me is the right way to go…glad you wrote an about it.

    Really loved the Holt quotes. Really enjoy Holt’s work.

    Just wanted to say thanks. I really enjoy your blog.

    Also, I’m a ESL teacher and these ideas definitely work in the classroom :)

  8. avatar Marisa says:

    Hi Janet,
    I hadn’t though of how “testing” children can impact their willingness to speak.

    My mom asks my daughter questions in the company of others for the entertaiment of it. At home, I can kindly remind her not to “pop quiz” my daughter but have a harder time interevening on my daughter’s behalf when she does this in the company of her friends or colleagues, for example. I have struggled with this but now that you mention it I would like to find a more consistent way to respond.

  9. avatar AK says:

    I have a little boy I babysit who I suspect receives almost constant narration at home–because he provides it here. There’s something about it that’s very different from other kids I’ve known (who I know don’t receive constant narration). He’s similar in some ways to my DH who, far from receiving constant narration, just received a lifetime of disrespectful communication. Neither of them seems to have a filter; rather, they just spout off everything they are doing and thinking, usually without pause for a response. Much the way “some people” narrate for children. My DH just talks…my daycare boy expects constant reactions from me.

    My DD, on the other hand, narrates her play outloud…but it’s clearly to herself, not to me. If I slip up and respond (to a panicked shout of “Mommy!”) she glares at me and says “Mommy…I’m PLAYING.”

    The daycare boy in question is also a product of “Your Baby Can Read.” [insert eye roll here]. I’ve had a distressing number of children come through here whose parents use that program…and every single parent has offered it to me to use while they’re here. Uh, no thanks…we do our own activities…

  10. avatar Jessica says:

    Thanks for this! My daughter has been a bit of a late blossomer with language, partly because I think she was doing what one other commenter remarked her grandson does: really listening and observing. She’s understood practically everything we’ve said since she was one. She’s now 22 months, and we are totally experiencing that language explosion. She’s gone from only saying mommy and daddy a couple months ago to full sentences and new words constantly. It’s hard to keep up! I was starting to worry, so hopefully this will reassure other parents whose children aren’t following the “normal” developmental path with language. This process has reaffirmed that I truly need to trust her to develop at the pace that is right for her.

  11. avatar Siobhan says:

    Hi, Im a little concerned about your perception of what is now known as ‘parent-eze’. This is not in fact talking in a high pitched voice but what it is, is the teaching the art of conversation. Also, babies do benefit from sign language and from what you call incessant chattering. This allows the baby to learn sounds and to develop the understanding of words and tone.

    • avatar janet says:

      Siobhan, if we all conversed with each other in Parent-ese, I would consider that “teaching the art of conversation”. What many misunderstand is that children can be taught just as well, if not better, when we speak naturally and authentically to them…when we teach them the art of REAL, accurate conversation. And the great thing is that this feels more REAL to us, too. I don’t believe in treating babies as if they are a different class of people who can’t understand words that are spoken to them in a natural voice. At what age would you suggest switching out of Parent-ese and into regular language? I would truly like to understand this, because it has always seemed so random and arbitrary to me.

  12. avatar E says:

    I enjoyed this article. I get what you are saying about not correcting toddlers when they call everything the same word. If a toddler calls a bear “duck” what is the appropriate response by the parent? Is saying, “yes, that’s a bear” ok? Or is that sending a mixed message? Thanks.

    • avatar janet says:

      Great question, E. Your response sounds fine to me… I might be even a little less corrective. “Yes, I see, does that look like duck?” Or, “Are you telling me about that bear?”

  13. avatar Lainey says:

    Oh my gosh! I love your blog so much! Thank you, thank you, thank you. I was wondering what you think of all the waving hi and bye. We don’t do it in life very often so why encourage babies to do it so much? I just do it when I would naturally do it and if he picks up on that great.

    • avatar janet says:

      Lainey, I like your approach. I actually wrote a post about that called “Hi, Bye and Thank You”. Those kinds of greetings are learned best by our children through our natural modeling. And the first time (or anytime) you get an authentic wave “hi” or “bye-bye is a treasured moment.

  14. avatar Janine says:

    Hi there, a lot of the points you make are good ones, many have been researched and easily found on the Internet. This includes baby sign language http://www.babysigns.com, researched by Drs. Acredolo and Goodwyn who found benefits to using signs. These benefits include understanding babies, strengthening relationships, self-esteem, language development etc.

    If people are really interested in exploring how best to communicate with children, then it’s worth looking at the work of these two educators who have spent their whole working careers on the area (nearly thirty years).

    Their research was ground-breaking, in fact a lot of new research that is coming out supports the work that they did. You’ll like the fact that they never talk about how much language to expose babies too, rather enriching their experiences through responding, understanding, respecting and “being” present. I think their work would resonate with your own philosophies.

    I agree with your point, research is not always the answer to everything and not always right, but neither are opinions based on limited experiences from limited demographics.

  15. avatar Fran says:

    Here’s another area where kids can be so different from each other. I feel like I did the same things with both of my children as far as talking to them in a normal voice and using real words, but they definitely developed differently. My son (my first child) spoke in full sentences from about 11 months. My daughter is 2 years and 3 months younger than him and chose not to speak at all until she was almost 18 months old. Being the worrying types, my husband and I had her hearing tested and considered taking her to a speech therapist. In the end it wasn’t necessary because once she decided to start talking she pretty much hasn’t stopped!

    • avatar janet says:

      Hi Fran! Full sentences by 11 months… Wow! Yes, there certainly is a wide variation in language development. We just can’t know what babies are working on at any given time. “Late” walkers might be early talkers, etc.

  16. avatar Tanya says:

    What I love most about this post is that it is full of helpful real-life details and yet has the same message as all of your other posts – trust babies and treat them with respect. Thank you for yet another thoughtful post and for being able to focus on these important details while keeping it simple at the same time.

    • avatar janet says:

      You’re welcome, Tanya, and I thank you for the kind words!

  17. avatar Anelie says:

    Before we quail at the thought of 30,000 words by 3 years, let’s do the math: that’s only 27.4 words a day :-) Most babies would hear that before breakfast! There is no need to babble incessantly to achieve this total, and the vast majority of parents will do it without any specific effort.

    For decades, people feared ‘motherese’ (a style of speech with exagerrated pitch and simplified syntax) would interfere with children’s acquisition of language. Research subesquently showed that far from being damaging, motherese unequivocally helps infants learn their mothertongue/s. For citations on this I recommend the excellent book ‘How Babies Talk: The Magic and Mystery of Language in the First Three Years of Life’ by linguists and mothers Roberta Michnick Golinkoff and Kathy Hirsch-Pasek.

    Every parent has their own style of motherese (and fatherese!) – an irritatingly high pitch is not mandatory (though a relatively higher pitch has been shown to grab babies’ attention, and cue them to the fact that they are the ones being spoken to). Research has discovered that people engaging in infant-directed speech unconsciously lengthen vowels, increase modulation to emphasise the emotion conveyed by their words, and shift unfamiliar words to the ends of sentences. All of these strategies seem to assist infants in learning language, and far from being patronising, spring from a sincere desire to communicate with this new little person as effectively and lovingly as possible.

    The question of pronoun use is an interesting one. Several ‘general baby’ books I’ve read claim infants find pronouns confusing, but without providing any evidence for why this might be. I was ready to discount the theory when one of my husband’s co-workers reported his daughter was referring to herself as ‘du’ (we live in Germany; this is the familiar form of ‘you’) rather than by her name – anecdotal evidence that perhaps infants do find it easier to distinguish between names and pronouns if we use given names more often in our early interactions with them.

    • avatar hakkawegian says:

      Anelie, I just wanted to say I really appreciate your contribution to the discussion. ‘Calm’ and research-backed :)

    • avatar janet says:

      Anelie, again, motherese is simply unnecessary… I have never heard of anyone “fearing” it.

      Regarding using pronouns vs. the child’s name, yes, it does take a bit of experience to discern “I” from “you”, etc., but children can only learn from what they are exposed to. If they don’t hear the pronouns used, they will learn them much later. In the meantime, they will refer to themselves by name, in third person: “Joey wants…”, etc., which is no less appropriate than referring to themselves as “you”, is it?

  18. avatar Maria says:

    My toddler is being raised bilingual and he hears Spanish at home and English at daycare. We try to speak as much Spanish as possible at home but Dad is not a native Spanish speaker. My question is if its ok for my boy to hear me speak English to him when I’m not native? and my husband’s Spanish? or if it will be best that each of us use their native language around our son?

    Also, I have noticed that my kid keeps using sign language for “more” accompanied by the word “mas” (more in Spanish) but then starts pointing at EVERY single thing that he can see (mostly food). I keep asking if he wants more bananas? more yogurt? and he keeps saying no or yes to all of the above and then when I offer the food he gets mad. I have no idea what to do, how should I approach this situation?

    I’m reading every single post you have on your blog, since I’m trying to incorporate the Montessori teaching at home. Thanks for sharing!

    • avatar janet says:

      Hi Maria! Between the English speaking daycare, you and your husband, it sounds to me like your son is getting productive exposure to both languages, so I wouldn’t worry. Bilingual children typically talk later, since they are internalizing more than language.

      You don’t say how old your son is, but it sounds like he is trying the communication out rather than actually “meaning” it. I would stay calm and respond, “You are telling me “more, more”. Is there something you want? Or, are you practicing this word? You say it very clearly.”

  19. avatar Kim says:

    I disagree with you on the motherese. I’d refer you to the book “Finding Our Tongues: Mothers, Infants, and the Origins of Language.” Compelling stuff.

    How do you know that young children feel disrespected by being spoken to in motherese? Do infants and toddlers tell you that? I can see older children (maybe 7 or 8) feeling that way, but I’ve always felt that young children respond better to me when I’m speaking in a different voice. I’ve also seen this in the children I work with who have autism.

    • avatar janet says:

      Kim, I know that many disagree with my point of view on motherese. We use it because we believe young children cannot understand normal language, right? Or, they need something more attention-grabbing? But babies definitely do hear and understand our regular voices. Their awareness level is even higher than ours! They learn and understand the language we choose to practice with them.

      I don’t know what you mean by young children responding “better”, but for me, it comes down to speaking to babies as respectfully as we would a 7 year old and I believe that helps us perceive babies as just as “whole” and present. Why set an age limit on this?

      • avatar Aradai says:

        Hi Janet, first of all I would like to thank you for your blog; I’ve become an avid reader and most of your articles have given me a lot to think about my parenting style and helped me in the process of growing as a person together with my son, who will turn 1 next Monday.

        In this point I’m very surprised to read that “We use it because we believe young children cannot understand normal language, right? Or, they need something more attention-grabbing?” because I really don’t see it that way. I use it, to a certain extent, because it feels a way to convey tenderness. I’ve also asked other people and their responses are similar.

        I am Mexican. Do you think this might be due to cultural differences?

        • avatar janet says:

          Interesting, Aradai. I wouldn’t put this one down to cultural differences. I think many feel as you do that a high pitched voice is more affectionate. I’m wondering why that is… If it is about tenderness, why wouldn’t we speak to all loved ones this way? (Or perhaps you do?) But if not, why only speak with this special voice (and exaggerated intonation, etc.) to babies?

          I don’t mean to be confrontational, just hope to open up a discussion. Thanks so much for your supportive words about my blog!

        • avatar Lauren says:

          Hi there, I just wanted to say have found article very interesting, but was confused on the comments on Parentese and this has prompted some further questions… I wanted to ask what the basis for you thoughts on Parentese are Janet? As far as I am aware Parentese is cross cultural and has been around forever, which would give rise to the theory that it somehow confers benefit to a child’s development, I would like to see evidence to support your point that there isn’t an age cut off, because I feel there is no reason to think there shouldn’t be one! (The baby’s brain is underdeveloped compared to a 7 year old so why shouldn’t there be different rules for both ages?)

          Parentese may be unecessary, but that is not the point here is it? What really matters is outcomes: What leads to a better outcome parentese or “normal” speech as you describe it, the only way to answer this is to compare meaningful at outcomes of children (eg speech development, social skills) who had parentese exposure to those who didn’t, because without that being done then there is absolutely no basis other than opinion to discourage parentese….

          Thanks, would be great to hear about some studies to support your opinions.

  20. avatar Rick Ackerly says:

    This is the best list of 10 I have ever seen. Rather, the most important one for any educator. Apply these principals at all ages. When they go to their first school show them to your child’s teacher and discuss them (in a way that doesn’t make you obnoxious). Better yet, as you select a school make a 50 minute appointment the Director of the school, take this list, and go over it together. These can be easily turned into interview questions, not just for the principal, but for principals to interview teacher candidates.
    Way to go Janet!!!

    • avatar janet says:

      Thank you, Rick! It’s wonderful to have your corroboration.

  21. avatar lifetimenanny says:

    Janet
    can you explain more why not test toddlers for example body parts? I think of this as repetition which I know is good for all ages.
    I do think your article was very informative.
    thanks

    • avatar janet says:

      I would think about it this way… Do you like to be tested? Testing children is asking them to prove themselves. It puts them on the spot and doesn’t foster trust or risk taking, which is what speaking a new language is about.

      • avatar Lauren says:

        Hi there, enjoyed reading your blog. A lot of great points. In response to your final question here I would have to say yes, to a certain extent many people of all ages enjoy being tested on things they know the answer to.. In this way testing a child on something they knows answer to builds confidence and establishes a sense of pleasure that they have achieved two way communication with a caregiver. I have noticed my son is very pleased with himself when he can point to his tummy and a link of communication has been made by this very “test”. Therefore, my question to you is why is it not beneficial, as long as a simple enough question is posed, to do this a few times to consolidate learning and boost confidence. I wonder whether your assumption that nobody likes to be tested is rather sweeping? I would be interested in the evidence base for either argument, if you have sources.

  22. avatar Stephanie says:

    Janet,
    Thank you for this post, this fits our family so well right now. Our almost 30 month old son does not yet use verbal language, and it is becoming an almost daily battle to keep others, including well-meaning family, from trying to “make” him talk. So many people will say right in front of my son “he can’t talk yet?” then lean over him and, in a louder, slower voice “Say _____. Can you say ______?” which is usually followed up by a “have you had his hearing/ speech/ learning ability, etc tested because something is wrong with him if he isn’t talking yet!” We did have his hearing tested, mostly because my husband had hearing issues when he was a toddler that were not detected until he was five, which lead to speech complications, so obviously, my husband was very concerned our son was experiencing the same issue. Aside from that one concern, we are not worried about him not using spoken language yet; our son has always been a very laid back observer, “late” according to the silly timelines to crawl and walk, but once he did, it was as if he had perfected it before he even started.

    It is obvious to my husband and I that he can understand us and others perfectly fine, as he responds to sounds, getting all excited when he hears the train whistle at the station three blocks away, he follows directions when I ask, he laughs, makes dinosaur noises, meows, pretends he is a puppy complete with barking and panting noises, and so many more noises from his everyday experiences then I remember my older two ever doing.

    I want to have a better response than just “He will use spoken words when he is ready,” because I know he already has words, just not spoken ones, and those that are spoken, I and his older brothers, and younger sister are the only ones who can understand his own “words”. Any suggestions? I want to make sure he knows that I tust his ability to communicate when he wants and needs to, and not to internalize that these negative comments in regards to his language development are true about him.

    Thank you again for this wonderful post, I enjoy reading your blog!

    • avatar clare says:

      my 24month old also roars, barks etc just not real words yet

  23. Thank you so much for this article. I have been trying to find information about how to work with my 35-month old who has only been recently saying real words. His vocabulary is still pretty small, and he still speaks more gibberish than real words. I read some of the comments that continued to encourage me. My son is a perfectionist and detail-oriented. From literally the first day of his life (and I do mean literally) people commented on how he seemed to study everything around him and was “soaking” things in. They were right. He still does this. DH and I have to be very careful about allowing him watch us do things like turn the stove on, remove a child-safety plug, and other such potentially dangerous things – because he will watch every step and then copy everything the first time.

    I do believe he has a rather high IQ although we’ve never had him tested. Another factor in our home is that we are a bi-lingual home. I speak English and my husband speaks Croatian. Both of our children understand both languages equally. My almost 3 yr old has a mixed vocabulary.

    All of that said – I have grown more concerned the closer we approach age 3 that his vocabulary is not larger. But after reading your article, I see that perhaps I need to play with him more, speak simpler, and definitely slower (I am a fast speaker in general – people are always commenting about that). I believe perhaps that last one is a major problem as he will often say, “bidabidaibda outside” or “bidabidabida bye-bye” and other such phrases.

    Anyhow – I am sorry for being long-winded…but for months I have been searching the Internet for things I can do at home without having to resort to speech-therapy. I am not sure how effective that would be – he will not speak on demand (or wave, or do anything else people ask him to do on demand. He has always been very stubborn that way!). But picture books seem to help a lot and I find him “reading” to himself and repeating things I say or do while reading those books to him. So that does seem to be an answer.

    I will begin implementing all of these steps you listed (and stop testing!).

    Thank you very much.

    Blessings from Croatia: A Little R & R: http://www.littlerandr.org

  24. avatar lil sprout says:

    Thank you, this is a great post!! Actually you’re saying a lot of things that make a lot of sense to me. The thing is I have a 21-months-old that is saying about 5 words, so the pediatrician told us to practice every day with word cards. Which at the moment doesn’t produce any effect besides stressing me and making me feel miserable since she is not at all interested in the cards, and will say ‘papa’ to all of them (I don’t know why she does this). I am or was actually confident in the fact that she will pick up and start to speak – without the cards – any time soon, when she’ll be ready for it, but the fact that the doctor said that she has to improve her language significantly before she’s 24 months (or will be sent to therapy) puts useless pressure on me, and on her. Now that I think of it: maybe I just need to change pediatrician ;-)

  25. avatar lil sprout says:

    ps. I forgot to mention that we speak french (me) and italian (dad) at home and that my daughter goes to an english spoken montessori school (she learned loads of things there but unfortunately nothing speech-related) – anyway the pediatrician said that bilingualism has nothing to do with early or late speaking… :-S

    • avatar janet says:

      Thanks, Sigrid! Quite honestly, your pediatrician does not sound well-informed. Bilingual children usually do speak later because they are absorbing, in your case, three languages. I understand doctors wanting to be proactive, but I hope you will follow your great instinct to relax and trust your daughter. “Papa” sounds like she’s resisting…and making this into a battle will be very unproductive for her language skills and also for your relationship with her.

  26. avatar Jenny says:

    Hi, I work at a playschool and I’ve noticed that some small children who don’t speak yet can get frustrated and sometimes exhibit aggressive behaviors (ex: hair pulling, biting, hitting). Are there any recommendations for helping these non-verbal kids express themselves in other ways or speeding up their verbal abilities? I suspect the problem will clear up when the child can use words more…but until then! Ouch!

  27. avatar Nat says:

    For whatever reason, the last tip made me cry. Damn hormones!

  28. avatar Tina says:

    Hi Janet,

    This is very informative. Thank you.
    My daughter is 15 months now, and says 2 words in English(does not say a word fully tho). Grandparents speaks to her in Indian language, and we mom and dad speaks in English. I have been speaking to her before she was born and now, also read lots of books.Is 2 different language delaying her?

  29. avatar camelia says:

    Hi I am 3yr and 7 months old sonwho was at home with my mom we do speak another language at home so he can not make sentence the max he can do 2 or 3 words in sentence and this apply to both languages.I just put him in day care as part time 2 days a week,but still have concerns with him.i ask him and make him to tell me the full sentence sometimes he does ,sometimes not.please let me know if I should be concern or not? Thanks

  30. avatar Niki says:

    Hi Janet,
    I can’t than you enough for this post! All the sentence in this post make perfect sense. The problem with me is, I need constant reminders to treat my kids this way. I think I need “Slow down” post-its all over my house. I can’t believe how much I have stifled my kids’ language by correcting their language most of the time, I recently started trying out the RIE method and I wish I had started earlier. I will bookmark this link on my Favorites page. My son is 3years 4 months and in speech therapy. I can see improvement but I think he has a long way to go but I am not forcing him anymore. Thank you so much again.

  31. avatar George Venetsanos says:

    Very good tips! Sometimes reminding adults that babies and toddlers are humans too is a very good idea.

  32. This is such an incredibly insightful post.
    Thank you so much for taking the time to share.

  33. It’s all about seeing babies as whole people isn’t it?

    Thanks for such a deeply useful list.

  34. avatar Donna says:

    Thanks once again for a wonderful post! My major pet-peeve is made up “baby words” like socky, and shoeses or get your cuppie off the table. I feel sorry for the disrespect children receive from well meaning adults.

  35. avatar R.M. says:

    The two pieces of advice I find the most difficult to follow are not correcting (though I’ll give it a go!) and allowing the child to take the lead when it comes to reading. My son will frequently want to read the first two pages of a book before moving to the next one, and on and on. I get very nervous about his developing a limited attention span. What do you believe are the determining factors in a person’s ability to focus?

  36. avatar Steinunn Hödd says:

    Thanks for this post. I know it’s an old one, but I think this will help me a lot with my son who is a slow talker :)

  37. avatar Karen says:

    Thank you for this. I appreciate the advice and the confirmation that my son is not necessarily delayed in his speech – just going at the pace that is right for him. He is 15 mo. now and only saying about three words, yet he seems to understand nearly everything I say. Meanwhile, we met another 15-month old boy today at the library, and he was stringing four and five words together. That definitely gave me a minor freak-out, but I talked myself down and remembered that language development definitely varies greatly from child to child.

  38. avatar Mary Beth says:

    Hi! This post is great! I was wondering if you could answer a question for me. I have a 15 month old daughter. She can say “ball,” “cheese,” “mama,” “dada,” “no,” “yes,” and “juice.” However, she only says them when I say “can you say ball” or something of that nature. If I hold up a ball and say “what is this?” She won’t say it. She won’t say any words on her own, except for a few times when I’ve heard her say “dada” when she say her daddy. She understands a lot and can follow commands. We always know what she wants. She can point to body parts when asked where they are. She also brings us things, such as a book to read or a ball to throw. She interacts well with us. But I can’t figure out if her only saying a word after I say it and ask her to say it is normal. Please help!

  39. avatar sumera says:

    Thanks got the great post my daughter is 2 1/2 she is babbling a lot. She says few words spontaneously and when I point to the clock she can count to 12 or even higher. When I hold alphabet she knows and says it. For Apple she say pple for banana she says nana. Etc. But then I’m so worried for last two nights I haven’t slept cause I’m reading great deal of info online. Comparing my toddler to another kid who is talking so much. But I know my little one understand but she won’t say it. Like requesting word like more, or please or help she would take my hand and put it on things that she wants. I would stand there for 10 min and encouraging her to use the words instead she gets frustrated and yells. She is already getting early intervention such as speech. I feel as she excel in other areas. I must mention I talk to her in English while my husband talks to her in urdu. So yesterday I told my husband we need to stop using two language maybe that is confusing her. I just change her pediatrician because I felt as they jump to conclusion such as the pediatrician was wandering if I have concerns about autism disorder spectrum, No I don’t think so I don’t want my child to have such a label, I just feel that there is some delays. I also feel that the fault us mine I let her watch too much Nikolai en jr. I didn’t know any better I thought she is getting verbal stimulation from dora and yo gamba gamba but I was so wrong. Also I should let her eat by herself instead of worrying that she will make a mess by spilling all over the place. But I do realize what that has done it stop her normal development pattern I’m in need of help. And by reading this post this is like a hope of new light a new direction.

  40. avatar sumera says:

    I’m truly going to try these things like u suggested such as testing her intelligence I’m constantly asking her show me your nose show me your feet where is your tummy i suppose these are not appropriate. Also i should slow down and play with her more i can’t wait till summer so i can take her out and play in park. I know my baby is great her little mind is thinking and processing just having some language delay. I want to thanks again Janat for this great post as a first time parent we need these kinds of blog which is full of encouragement and support at the same time i must say to bloggers who are reading my post don’t let technology suck your little one in tv, i pads and iPhone or other tablets and stuff because that is what i did and i really regret it. I hope to follow these wonderful directions here and trust my little ones instinct. GOD bless

  41. avatar Ratnadeep says:

    Hi Janet ! Thank you so much for such a lucid write up. Keep it up. In fact,I and my spouse are very much worried about our 2-year and 9 months old son, who is very smart and playful but he just keeps on babbling.He is not yet able to learn any language.Please guide us.

  42. avatar siana says:

    Hi Janet, i,have a 4 year old son,who is still struggling to speak,i am not sure what is the problem,at home we speak out language and at day care he speaks english,should we continue like that? And the other problem i think there ,i feel like he is stubborn to speak,when ever he feels he want to speak he will,otherwise he wont.

  43. avatar Brittany says:

    My son turned 2 February 28th. He was born three weeks early. He still babbles a lot and does not speak sentences yet but he can identify things and speak words and repeats a lot of what he hears. I’m sure that because he’s two that would be a reason why he has a short attention sons but should I be concerned about his language development or just give him time?

  44. avatar Hannah says:

    Hi Janet I was wondering if you could give me some of your expert advise. My daughter is almost 18 months old and is not saying any recognizable words yet but is very good at communicating non verbally and understands pretty much everything in both English and German. We live in Germany and I speak to her in my mother tongue (English)and my husband speaks to her in his mother tongue German. My husband and I speak to each other in a mixture of English and German which must be so confusing for our daughter. To make things even more confusing our daughter has regular exposure (around twice a week) to the Polish language from her Grandparents who are Polish but have lived in Germany for 20 years. She also hears her dad speaking Polish with his parents.
    Do you think her language delay could be related to the confusion of the three languages?

    All the articles I read in relation to multilingual children and speech delay are so conflicting. I’m not sure if I should take her to see a speech therapist or just wait and see if her language progresses naturally. What are your thoughts?

    • avatar janet says:

      Hi Hannah! In my experience, children exposed to more than one language take a bit longer to begin speaking, but eventually speak both languages (which she already understands).

  45. avatar MK says:

    Much of this is similar to speaking with/to elderly with dementia. A lot of it is pure kindness

  46. avatar Christina salas says:

    My daughter is gonna be 2 in a week an she does speak but the words our not clear but we do under stand her and she does blabble a lot what can I do to make her speak more she has 5 siblings and the all speak to her no baby talk my husband says it’s my fault cause I was talking to in baby language but I did stop

  47. avatar Nour says:

    Hi.. Thank you so much for addressing this issue. I have a question and forgive me if its not related. My baby girl is turning 3 yrs in a month.. Her language skills are super (main language is persian).. Talking not only sentences but essays… If not to me then to her dolls.. Telling them stories or just singing the songs she memorizes… I also speak to her in arabic she she has complete understanding of that language too,even though her reply to me is in persian.. She has been going to daycare for one and a half years with no problems whatsoever.. For about three months now she has been refusing to speak in the daycare.. I thought she might be shy but she verbaly said that she doesn’t want to speak when I asked her why wasn’t she talking to her teacher or the other children.. I then asked her why didn’t she want to speak and she answered that she didn’t like to. I thought was facing a problem there but she really likes going there everyday.. Nothing has changed si this couldnt be a reaction to anything… I really don’t know what else to do.. Even at daycare her teacher told me that she tried everything possible but she just refuses to talk.. She haa been potty trained foe six months now but now she even refuses to tell her care giver that she needs to go potty.. Any advice I would be immemsly greatful

  48. avatar Sheena says:

    I love your suggestions! I have never even thought about some of them. I know this is an old post, but I’m going to give it a shot. My 23 month old receives speech therapy once a week. He says lots of words for the therapist, but won’t say these words to anyone else — me, my husband, his siblings, grandparents, etc. Why do some toddlers do this? Also, our therapist has me try and wait for a word or syllable before giving in to something. For example, if he wants out of his high chair, he needs to tell me “down” or “all done” or something. So, I’ll ask, “are you all done? Do you want to get down?” and I’ll wait for him to tell me. He usually doesn’t, so I end up asking him, “tell me down” and it becomes a struggle. I know he can say those words because he’s done them before, but what’s a better way to approach it?

    • avatar janet says:

      Thanks, Sheena! I recommend backing off and easing the pressure on your son to perform these words for you. I realize your intentions are very positive. But the toddler years are a resistant age, and it seems you are giving his language use a lot of power to concern you, etc. You might sometimes try really waiting for him to tell you what he needs re: the highchair, rather than asking him. I would let go of this for now, especially since you know he can actually say these words.

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