How to Facilitate Language Growth

Some toddlers learn words in fits and starts, while other children's vocabularies rise at a rapid and steady pace. What can you do to nurture your youngster's verbal skills?

Introduction

Family Tree Photograph by Ronnie Andren

The 2-year-old gradually begins to use pronouns, such as I, you, and me, correctly. She can follow a two- or three-part command, such as "Please put the book down, and bring me your cup." Suddenly, she seems to be an infinitely more sophisticated being; she understands and responds to nearly everything you say!

What role does a parent play in this process? Many experts believe that the human brain is, in a sense, preprogrammed to learn language. So parents should back off from strenuous efforts to teach a child language by constantly introducing new words or by overtly correcting grammar or syntax. Rather, you can best help your child's garden of verbal skills grow by being a good facilitator, in the ways outlined here.

First, recognize the wide variation in language abilities at this age. Some toddlers learn words in fits and starts, while others' vocabularies rise at a rapid and steady pace. In general, boys start to talk later than girls do, a difference that evens out by the time they begin attending school.

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There's a tendency for parents to compare a child's verbal skills with those of other kids his age and to assume that early talking and a wide-ranging vocabulary are signs of a budding Einstein. They may or may not be. It's a matter of odds, the experts say. If your child is talking at a very advanced stage, he may well be gifted. But on the other hand, many children with small vocabularies at age 2 are highly intelligent.

Often, language and speech problems can be detected at age 2. If your toddler does not say two-word sentences or have about a 20-word vocabulary, consult your pediatrician or family doctor. There may not be any problem, but it's best to find out because early intervention can help. In any event, at this stage your child's receptive vocabulary -- how much she can understand of what other people say to her-is often deemed more important than what she can say to others.

Have Fun with Baby's Development: The Name Game

Play a naming game together. Seat your child near you, place six common objects in front of her, and tell her what each one is called. Then move about six feet away, cover your mouth slightly with your hand, and in a quiet voice ask her to put the items in a bowl as you name them. Your child will enjoy this activity, and it will also give you some clues about her hearing and ability to understand object names. If you suspect there may be a problem, consult your pediatrician.

    All content here, including advice from doctors and other health professionals, should be considered as opinion only. Always seek the direct advice of your own doctor in connection with any questions or issues you may have regarding your own health or the health of others.