Toddler Talk: Developing Language Skills

“My grandma is the bestest grandma. She swimmed with us in the pool.”

Last year in honor of National Grammar Day, we asked our Facebook fans to share some phrases they’ve heard from their children that weren’t so grammatically correct. Some wondered where their children had ever picked up some of the things they had heard them say. They knew their children weren’t repeating anything they had ever said.

Learning language is a creative process — not an imitative one. All the little irregularities you hear along the way to standard speech are signs of progress. When a child uses “swimmed” instead of “swam,” that’s cause for celebration. She is demonstrating that she has internalized the rule for past tense! Once this happens, she’ll gradually start using the correct past tense for the verbs that don’t follow the rules based on what she hears every day. If parents don’t know or expect this, they can sometimes become concerned without need. You can try correcting the misuse of a word, but don’t be surprised if your child continues to use the “incorrect” word. The best way to respond is to simply repeat back using the correct words. “Your grandma is the best grandma. She swam with you yesterday, didn’t she?”

Receptive language precedes expressive language — children understand more than they can say. Before infants use words, they use cries, gestures and facial expressions to convey meaning. A child’s first word is perhaps one of the most anticipated milestones. Children generally say their first words between 12 and 18 months of age. Yet, each child has his own timetable. Babbling will become words, words short phrases and then eventually sentences. Then the questions will surely come!

Don’t fret over the incorrect grammar your child uses. It’s to be expected. However, that doesn’t mean you don’t have an important role to play in stimulating and supporting your child’s language development. Here are just a few ideas to get you started:

Sing songs and repeat rhymes. Music is a wonderful way to help your little one engage in language development. Repeating familiar nursery rhymes such as the “Itsy Bitsy Spider” are simple and fun for everyone. The repetition and rhyming are particularly helpful. The best part about music and rhymes is that once you know them, you can carry them anywhere.  They can be life savers if you have to wait somewhere with your child.

Start by speaking with your fingers. Research has shown that by age two, young signers can have an average of 50 more spoken words than non-signers. At Primrose Schools, we teach sign language beginning in our infant rooms. Children sign naturally as they begin trying to communicate with the adults around them. We just don’t always know how to interpret their signs. American Sign Language (ASL) gives us a common language to use. Signing makes it possible for young, preverbal children to let others know when they are hungry, thirsty or hurt. Using sign language promotes increased vocabularies, the development of fine motor skills and improved self-esteem. Teaching Your Tot to Sign by Stacy Thompson is a great resource to get your fingers moving.

Read to your child. It should come as no surprise to you that I highly recommend reading as one of the best ways to enhance your child’s language development. Your child is likely to have favorite books that he will want to hear over and over again. Look for books with good illustrations that match the words on the page and invite your child to participate by repeating a refrain or by asking them to guess what comes next.

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