As an English teacher at a secondary school, I have to prepare my pupils for Speaking and Listening exams. This, of course, is very different to teaching a toddler to speak. Firstly, they can already string a sentence together (well, mostly).
Secondly, the purpose is very different; the pupils are learning how to become great public speakers. Whereas, a toddler is learning everyday vocabulary (at least to start with).
However, there are some methods that my husband and I adopted at home, which I am convinced helped my son become so articulate and forward for his age. I have previously mentioned how quickly he picks up words.
Two Way Conversation
Nobody is going to talk to a brick wall, including a child. I remember, even when my son was only a few months old, I would chat away to him as though he understood every word. But just hearing words all the time can be helpful. Engage with your child whenever they speak. Even if you;
a) don’t have a clue what they are trying to say
b) really don’t feel like it
c) don’t feel like it needs a response
Every utterance is progress; they are trying to master the sounds and if they get no response, they may just give up. This also leads me on to my next point…
Everyone loves praise. Even as adults we seek approval, whether its from our boss, parents or partner. So every time your toddler labels something correctly or gets a word in the right context, praise them. A simple ‘well done’ or ‘that’s right’ can work but remember the tone of your own voice too. Try to sound as bright and positive as you can (even if you feel a bit like your trying to be a kids’ TV presenter).
Its difficult not to talk down to a toddler, they are after all, children. But don’t let their lack of vocabulary fool you into thinking they don’t understand you. Both at school and at home, talk to my pupil and children as though they were adults (to some degree). Tots learn by mimicking what they see and hear so if your simplifying things too much they could take much longer to progress. And if they get a word wrong, simply correct them in a positive tone.
Avoid Baby Talk
Following on from my last point, children are like sponges and will pick words up quickly, but you don’t want them to have learn the names for things twice over. In other words, use the words you would when addressing an adult. For example, you wouldn’t say ‘Do you want a bot-bot of beer with your din-dins’ to your partner (or maybe you would – each to their own).
I know its cute when babies and toddlers say things like ‘Baa Lamb’ or ‘Gee Gee’ but they then have to learn the correct words at some point, it just seems like extra work for both you and them. And don’t be afraid to use longer words sometimes, the more they are exposed to them, the sooner they will start to use them themselves.
Learning through Play
One of my assignments for my teaching training involved investigating why boys were underachieving at school. A theory I came across was that boys are behind girls in terms of speech from preschool age because of the difference in toys they play with. For example, girls tend to favour roleplaying which mimics adults such as playing mummies or shops, as well as playing with dolls more. These games all involve lots of speech, whereas, boys tend to favour toys such as cars and sports which involve little or no speech.
With this in mind, I purposefully bought lots of figures for Lil Man to play with and I interact with him when he plays. This is now his favourite game and he doesn’t stop talking the whole time he is playing.
From a very early age, we got into the routine of reading a bedtime story to our little boy. Every night one of us would read him a book, even as a baby. You may feel silly reading or talking to a baby so young and you may dismiss it as not being necessary until they are old enough to speak themselves, but the sooner you start making it habitual, the sooner they will develop a love for books. Also, hearing you read aloud means they become familiar with words you wouldn’t normally use in everyday conversation.
I am no expert and you can interpret these tips how you like. However, I do feel that this combination of activities (and maybe some born intelligence) has ensured my son can string together complex sentences and master some 4 syllable words at such a young age (25 months).