Between eighteen months and two years old, children will typically build up a vocabulary of about 50 recognisable words and will also show an increasingly obvious understanding of many more. As they near their second birthday, they'll be starting to put two words together to make little sentences, for example, “Cat there” or “Daddy gone”.
The video below shows a short conversation between my daughter and her dad as they walked to nursery one morning. She was 20 months old.
The first thing to say is, if your child is not talking like this just yet, don't panic, every child is different and will develop at varying speeds. It's best not to compare your child with others, but rather refer to development guidelines from a reputable source. The guide on the NELFT NHS website contains further speech and language milestones for babies and toddlers. It's important to note that these statements are supposed to be used for guidance, there will always be some children who progress differently. Having said that, I'm a firm believer in getting the right support early on, so don't ignore them either. A ‘wait and see’ approach is generally not considered to be best practice these days – so follow your instincts and seek professional advice if you are concerned.
Identifying a speech, language or communication problem is complex. A child may benefit from support with a specific area or need more general support in all areas. It is important to understand that the process of learning to talk is very complicated and relying on Google to diagnose your child’s problem is likely to lead to a lot of unnecessary worry and stress. A professional, for example, will be able to assess whether your child has difficulty in forming and articulating certain sounds (speech delay), or if their difficulty comes from their ability to understand (receptive language) or outwardly communicate (expressive language). Try to avoid placing blame or comparing your child to their siblings as this too will likely cause unnecessary worry and stress. Instead, be open to receiving support and advice and know that speech and language delays are highly treatable, particularly if identified early.
You can support your child every day at home by:
* Listening to, and giving them your full attention. The foundation for all language learning is learning to look and listen. Share attention by pointing and labelling different things in the environment around them. Notice what they are interested in and use this as your starting point. Get down to their level when talking to them.
*Show patience if they try to communicate something that you don't understand. Repeat what you think they said and accept other forms of communication in response (nodding, pointing etc). If this isn't right and they are still trying to verbalise something that you don't understand, give them the time and space to try without interrupting them. In doing so you'll be showing them you are valuing their efforts. Be careful not to put pressure on them to repeat themselves multiple times, they may find this stressful and become frustrated. In my experience, it's best to read the situation and move on if the moment has passed.
* Repetition. Children have to hear words being used many times before they will use it in speech themselves. Another way to use repetition is to mirror their speech by echoing it back to them. For example, if the child says 'u-u-u', the adult would say 'up-up-up' emphasising the 'p' sound at the end of the word. It is best to avoid actually telling them they got it wrong, just repeat it back correctly so they have opportunity to hear the word again.
*Add vocabulary to their repertoire by giving a choice of two, for example: ‘Would you like to play with the monkey or the rabbit?’ ‘Would you like tomato or pepper?’
*Model language by putting your child's single words into sentences, e.g. child: ‘car’ adult: ‘yes, it’s a red car’
*Make connections explicit. For example, in the video above my daughter says 'doggy' and my husband adds 'yes, it's a doggy, woof, woof, woof' helping her to link the word ‘doggy’ with the sound a dog makes.
*Talk all the time as if your child will respond. Narrating your daily activities will expose your child to between 1000-2000 words every hour. Imagine your child is an adult who is capable of two-way communication. Talk directly to them, ask questions, make eye contact and leave pauses to enable your child to respond and process what you are saying.
*Comment on what you see rather than ask direct questions, for example, instead of ‘what’s that?’ say ‘Look! A bird is in the garden’.
*Switch off background noise whenever possible – it makes it harder for your child to hear, focus and concentrate on what you are saying.
*Limit their screen time to under 30 minutes per day – they learn far more from interacting and listening to you than a screen.
*Read for short periods every day, multiple times a day if possible. Have a small collection of books in a box that they can access at any time. Notice what they are looking at and comment on that. Point and label items in the pictures. Play hide and seek games with the illustrations, ‘I can see a bird, can you see a bird?’
Finally, be careful if you use expressions like ‘keep an eye out’ – they might just take you literally!
If you’d like further activity ideas and information about how to support your child’s development, take a look at our age-appropriate activity cards, available to purchase in our online shop.