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Building your toddler's language skills (1-3 years)

​​​Know how your toddler communicates.

Toddlers communicate in many ways. They may make sounds, say words, use short sentences, or point to tell you what they need or want. Recognize and encourage all attempts your toddler makes to communicate. When you respond, your toddler realizes that what they’ve done is important and will likely do it again.

Talk to toddlers at their physical lev​el.

Kneel, bend down, sit on small chairs together, or stretch out on the floor when you talk with your toddler. Do whatever works for you to get down to their level. Make sure you’re able to look into each other’s eyes when you’re speaking to one another. This makes it easier to imitate your toddler’s actions and words. It also lets them know that you’re interested in what they’re doing or saying.

Use short sentences to talk about what you’re doing.

Toddlers learn language by listening and copying what they hear around them. If you keep your sentences short, and talk that way often, your toddler will have an easier time learning to talk in sentences.

Wait a few seconds after you finish talking.

Toddlers need time to think about what they want to say and time to say it. By waiting 5 to 10 seconds after you make a comment, you’re giving your toddler a chance to take a turn in a conversation.

Use a variety of words when teaching new words to toddlers.

Introducing different kinds of words is important for sentence building. Talk about action words (e.g., make, throw, eat), location words (e.g., up, out, in), and description words (e.g., big, hot, dirty), as well as nouns (people and things).

Repeat what your toddler says using correct sounds and words.

Toddlers say many words, but not always clearly. You can help your toddler speak clearly by repeating back the words they say, using correct pronunciation. Exaggerate the missing or mispronounced sound. Listening to these correct models will gradually help your toddler to improve their speech.

Use daily routines to introduce new words, ideas, feelings, and concepts.

Routines such as dressing and mealtime are natural times to talk with your toddler. Use these routines to emphasize and repeat words that may be new for them. Talk with them about what’s happening in the moment.

Use the rhythm and repetition of songs, finger plays, and books to build language skills.

Rhythm and repetition of songs and finger plays help your toddler to learn and remember words and sentences. Choose songs and rhymes with a theme they like (e.g., animals, dinosaurs, trains). Visit your local library to find books and DVDs to give you new ideas.

Make books fun and accessible.

Have books within your toddler’s reach so they can choose a book to bring to you. Good books for toddlers have bright, realistic, and fun pictures, with only a few words on each page. Reading books together can be a fun time with your child and a great way to introduce new words and sentences. Your library has a wide variety of books suitable for toddlers.

Talk to a speech-language pathologist if you have any concerns.

Birth to 5 years of age is an important time for the development of speech, language, and hearing. Strong speech, language, and hearing skills are important for later learning and school success. Acting on concerns early is important.

Where to go get help

For more information about how speech-language pathologists and audiologists can help, contact:

  • Your doctor, public health nurse, or other health provider
  • Your local health centre
  • Visit the Talk B​ox - A parent guide to creating language rich environments​

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