Your child begins to absorb vocabulary words and understand conversation skills well before they start talking. So how can you help equip your little one with verbal skills while they’re young?

Teaching your baby how to converse

You can help your little one learn how conversations work before they can speak fluently. Some tips for this include:

Pausing when you’re speaking to your baby
Leave gaps for when they would respond if they could talk back to you, like leaving time for them to ‘answer a question’ or reply to a statement.

Copying their sounds
When your infant starts making sounds, encourage them by repeating their sound and making some more. This is like an early version of conversation and provides positive reinforcement as they begin to form words.

Altering your tone of voice
Remember to speak with emphasis on important words or speak louder or softer if you’re talking about something exciting or scary.

Building your toddler’s vocabulary

Your child’s vocabulary won’t be very big for the first few years of their life, but they are still listening and learning. Each child is different and develops their vocabulary at different pace but you can support your toddler’s vocabulary by:

Using big words
Some parents have the attitude that they should stick to small words that their little one can understand. Keep in mind that all words are new to them! Avoid ‘dumbing down’ your vocabulary – instead, teach your child to ask for definitions if they don’t understand. When they’re old enough, you can ask them to use the new word they learned in a sentence a bit later that day.

Reading together
Picture books are a great way to build vocabulary. Attaching words to their images can make it easier for your toddler to recognise things like animals, nature words, body parts etc.

Playing pretend with toys
Try setting up tea parties with your toddler and their toys. Let them see you having conversations with their toys and encourage them to ask questions and make up back and forth between themselves and their guests.

Exploring the world
Take day trips, road trips, walks around the neighbourhood, trips to the supermarket; anything that gets your toddler out into the world is a good chance to expose them to language. Try asking them about what you're doing, how they’re feeling, what they can see.

Playing games
Games like treasure hunts or Simon Says can help toddlers learn how to follow instructions and learn preposition words.

Singing songs and nursery rhymes
Learning words to a rhythm can help your toddler remember new words. Try singing songs together or making up catchy songs about what you’re doing.

Building on your child’s words
Encourage your little one when they do speak by adding to their sentences. For example, if they say ‘that’s a cat’ you can respond by saying ‘yes, that is a white, fluffy cat!’

Providing positive reinforcement
While your child is still a toddler, try to avoid correcting their mistakes too much – there will be plenty of them. Learning things like past tense and plurals can take a while, so encourage your child for trying; they’ll figure out more about grammar as they get older and converse with more people.

Engaging with your toddler for sustained interactions
When you get your little one responding, try to keep it up for at least 8-10 back and forths between you. You can prompt them with questions to keep them talking and practising conversing.

If your toddler hasn’t started babbling or speaking some words by about 18 months old, you may want to chat to your GP or paediatrician – some children take longer than others, and speech therapy or doctor’s advice can help if your little one is slow to start talking.