It may not have been dictionary proof dialect but your baby has communicated their feelings and needs to you since they day they were born. From around their first birthday distinct words will have begun to emerge from the babble and by the time you reach toddler years, they will be well on their wordy way.
Toddlers may not have a full tank of words but they display their understanding of the world around them with intonation and gestures. You might notice your persistent little student of speech raising their voice at the end of a question and witness that pointing is an effective way to ensure you are understood!
Asking questions is a good way to see how many of your words are being understood, simple instructions such as ‘roll me the ball’, or questions like ‘where is your nose?’ can highlight just how much speech your little sponge is soaking up.
When words happen
Between eighteen months and their second birthday you toddler’s repertoire of words increases from around ten to fifty and they will begin to be strung together into basic sentences, and perhaps even songs if you are partial to the odd nursery rhyme.
Specific grammatical constraints are abstract and confusing and playtime chatter may still contain baby babble, however the rhythm will sound increasingly like structured speech.
As your toddler approaches their third birthday, they will begin to master more sophisticated speech and get to grips with pronouns like ‘you’, ‘I’, and ‘me’. ‘No’ is a word heard often with a toddler in the house and is a reassuring sign of growing independence.
Your curious toddler is fascinated by the world around them and increased language skills mean a surge in the number of questions that need answers; ‘who?’, ‘what?’, ‘where?’ will be asked often, so be prepared with lots of answers.
Simple conversations can usually be held around the third birthday, by which time your toddler will begin to convey stories and summaries of things that they have done, but don’t expect them to be factually accurate! Timeframes are tricky to comprehend so yesterday/ today/ a long time ago are all fairly interchangeable.
Tenses are hard too and you will often hear a misguided logic in a muddled word; repeat their sentence and insert the correct word rather than announcing that they have made a mistake.
Narrating as much of your daily routine as possible is a fantastic way to expose your inquisitive toddler to words. It also helps anchor them to objects and actions. By pointing, introducing and explaining what you are up to, you facilitate communication and connections. Even before they are learned linguists, give your toddler time to ‘talk’ back to you as you pause between statements. Learning to respond to speech is an important part of the language learning curve.
Simple speech is going to benefit your toddler more than Shakespearean sonnets so use short sentences that utilise key words. Toddlers often expand their sentence structure one word at a time and you can encourage this by using one or two more words than they are to describe something; for example if they say ‘cat’ you could respond with ‘yes, black cat’. Offering a choice is another effective way to expose them to more sophisticated speech, rather than saying ‘banana?’ you could ask if they would like ‘an apple or a banana?’ showing the items that you are referring to will aid learning.
Listen and learn
Listening is an important part of language and bonding over books is a lovely way to learn. You might like to consider incorporating a bedtime story into your nightly routine, if you have not done so already.
Children acquire and use language at different rates in different ways, if you have any concerns about your toddler’s speech development make an appointment with your health visitor who will reassure you and refer you to a speech and language therapist if necessary.