Parents are the first educators of their children and this is especially true for language acquisition. A child’s brain is programmed to learn to talk, but it doesn’t just happen. Without a good level of stimulation, language development can be delayed. The ability to communicate through speech or sign language unlocks the ability to learn other things.  Communication is an important skill, which needs to be nurtured as soon as a child is born.

Top tips

  • Respond to a baby with speech as well as actions
  • Enable a baby to see your face when speaking
  • Minimise other noise (Radio, TV)
  • Imitate their sounds and babbles
  • Narrate your actions and name items
  • Repetition helps to embed vocabulary
  • Use a sing-song tone of voice
  • Use rhymes, games, songs and books
  • Take turns, give time for children to respond
  • Don’t correct a child, use the right word or sentence back
  • As children string words together, model slightly more complex sentences
  • Be interested in what they have to say and have fun


Want to know more?

Baby talk

Babies watch and listen. If speech is used with babies and they hear it often, a basic understanding will begin to develop. In their own way babies communicate through crying and smiling; speaking to a baby in response helps babies to start to pay attention to language.  Interpret their cries and express what you believe they are communicating e.g.  “Do you want food?”. 

When speaking to a baby try to make eye contact and look directly at them, so they can see your expressions and how your mouth moves.  In a few months, they will try to copy and begin to babble sounds.  If you imitate them and babble back, they will learn to take turns and have a “conversation”.  Minimise the other noises around, turn off the radio or the TV as children can better process speech without distractions.

A “sing-song” tone of voice attracts a baby’s interest and helps them to hear the rhythm of language.  The repetition of familiar songs and rhymes also helps to embed vocabulary.  Peek-a-boo games usually get a response from babies and teaches them about turn taking. As they get older, action songs help children to remember words e.g. “Row-row-row the boat”. 

It is never too early to use books with babies.  Cuddling up with a book is a great bonding experience as well as illustrating and introducing new language. With babies, it is not even necessary to read the words, it is enough to talk about what you see.


Narrate your day

Think about the day to day activities you do with your child. Try to narrate what is happening in simple language e.g. “Bath time, here’s your duck?”. Repeat what you say often as that will help a child to understand the vocabulary about their routines.  If a child points to something they want make sure you say what it is “Teddy – you want your Teddy, here’s your Teddy”.

From about 12 months old children will move from babbling to attempting single words.  Perfect pronunciation takes time to develop.  When a child attempts a word don’t criticise the way they say it, simply say it back to them correctly. For example “ ‘poon” might be the child’s version of “spoon”; You would say “Yes I’ll get your spoon, here is your spoon”. 

To help with vocabulary give choices to a child: “do you want bread or raisins” showing them both items. As their vocabulary develops you can begin to play identifying games for parts of the body or favourite toys. Make chat fun, put on voices, be silly, children will find this more engaging.

From about 18 – 24 months they will begin to respond to simple instructions: “find me a book” or “pick up your doll”.  Between 2 and 3 years old children will begin to link words together “red bus” or “big black dog” which will be the beginnings of sentences.  You can respond with a slightly more complex sentence “Yes – we are on the red bus”.

Be interested

As conversations develop remember to give children time to respond. Children do not respond rapidly as their brain pathways need longer to process what they hear before they can form an answer.  Also, be careful not to ask lots of questions as this can make a child feel they are being tested which can cause anxiety, which can then prevent communication.  Take the lead from a child’s interests and encourage them to tell you more.  Your attention to them makes them feel worthwhile and valued, it will build not only their language but their confidence and social skills.  Be conscious of when screen time is taking over from time to talk, keep screen time to a minimum.

If you have concerns about your child’s language development – check out the following website to see what to expect when and decide if you should seek more help:

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