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Encouraging new sounds and words

Most children learn how to talk naturally, without any help. Some toddlers have trouble saying sounds and words even though they understand words well and use actions and facial expressions ​to let others know what they want. These toddlers may need to hear, see, and practice sounds and words many times to learn and use them.

Be face to face with your toddler

  • So that she can see how your mouth moves and hear your sounds better.
  • Crouch, kneel or crawl on the floor; lie down facing each other.

Draw attention to your toddler’s mouth

  • Talk about the parts of the mouth (e.g., lips, tongue) when you’re brushing your child’s teeth.
  • Play with different movements while looking in the mirror (e.g., open/close lips, round lips, smile, move tongue out/in/up/down, wiggle tongue).
  • Add sounds to these movements when your child copies you (e.g., “OOO” while rounding lips)

Imitate your toddler’s actions, sounds, and words

  • Then wait—she may try to copy you!
  • Wait 5 seconds to give your child time to figure out how to say the sound or word.
  • At first she may only copy actions or gestures; then sounds and later words.
  • Encourage her when she tries to make a sound or say the word.

Repeat, repeat, repeat

  • Use books, nursery rhymes, and songs to let your child see and hear the same words many times in a fun way.
  • Say key words over and over during the day (e.g., “up, up,up, you go” “soooooo BIG”, “This is the way we ‘wash’ our hands, legs, clothes”)

Be a model

  • Model sounds and words by saying and repeating them clearly and correctly.
  • Have fun with simple sounds and words during the day (e.g., Wow, Wee, Yeah!, moo, pop, up). Say the sounds and wait to see if your toddler will try to say them too.
  • When your child tries to say a word but it does not sound like you think it should, repeat the word slowly and clearly without correcting her.

Draw attention to your models

  • Say the sounds louder or longer (e.g., ‘PoP’, ‘sssssnake’).
  • Hold an item by your mouth and say the name of it clearly so your child will look at your mouth. (e.g., “milk”)​

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 ​Box - A parent guide to creating language rich environments

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