Learning to talk

mum and toddler reading together

Chat, play, read!

Babies and young children love it when you chat, play and read with them, even if you think they're too young to understand. You can turn almost anything into a game. And every little thing you do together will help set them up nicely for the day they start school.

Tips to help with speech development

Here are some tips and activities to help your child develop their speech skills:

  • try playing with things your child is interested in, and be at their level physically while you're playing together
  • notice what your child is looking or pointing at and talk about it, try to do this before their attention moves on to something else – that might be within a couple of seconds for babies and toddlers
  • use picture books to introduce your child to new things – point to the pictures and say what you see
  • take turns to make noises or speak with your child, as you can respond to their babbling by copying back the sounds you hear and then waiting for them to take another turn
  • make reading, singing and playing fun by using lots of actions and different voices
  • use the same song or book – young children learn a lot when they are familiar with particular songs and books
  • talk to your child in short, simple sentences, as it helps them understand what you are saying and makes it easier for them to have a go at copying when they're ready

Video: Singing

Watch this video of a mum singing to her child. Songs are a great way to help your child learn about language.

Ideas to help your toddler learn

Here are some ideas to help your child learn by chatting, playing and reading with them.

  • Name objects and offer your child choices, for example, "Do you want an apple or an orange?".
  • Say the names of the foods your child is eating and talk about what they're like using words like, "sweet", "sour", "round", "smooth" "cold", "warm".
  • Look at picture books together – give your child time to point things out and talk about what they can see using words for actions and things, for example, "The baby is sleeping".
  • Draw simple pictures and encourage your child to add marks and colours while you talk about them.
  • Find songs and rhymes that use gestures and objects.
  • Play pretend games together like teddy bears picnic.
  • Combine water play with pretend play by giving dolly a bath – talk about what you are doing, like "Wash dolly's legs", "Wash dolly's tummy".
  • Pretend to be a rabbit as you bite into a carrot, or a mouse nibbling some cheese – make sure you both have some food to try!
  • Learning more than one language

    It's important to talk to your child in the language or languages you use.

    A child learning more than one language should babble and say their first words in the same way as a child learning one language.

    It is important not to confuse this slight delay with language difficulties – most children quickly catch up.

    For more help on languages, have a look at the parent's questions on the National Literacy Trust website.

    Dad and toddler reading together

    Help and advice

    Your child may not have any routine developmental reviews during the age of 1 to 2. If you feel your child needs a little extra support, your health visitor can help. They may put you in touch with a speech and language therapy team, or give you details of local activities.

    If your child is going to nursery or another early years setting, staff will be able to help keep track of your child's development. Some children are eligible for free nursery places at 2 years old. Ask your health visitor for more information.

    Ask your health visitor for more support whenever you need it, they will be able to provide tips and advice.

    Remember, children learn to talk at different ages. If you are worried, speak to your health visitor or nursery key worker, or contact your local speech and language therapy service for advice.

    For more ideas on how you can help your child, visit:

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