Language Development & Linguistics

Parents often come to me concerned when they feel that their toddler isn’t speaking enough or that their toddler’s vocabulary isn’t where it should be. I have a couple of TOP tips on how to expand your child’s vocabulary in a very authentic and simple way.

I am not disregarding any type of therapy. Of course, if you have genuine concerns, go and see a professional. Although there are a couple of things that you can try at home first to try and broaden your child’s vocabulary.

TOP TIP 1: Describe your child’s play.

This requires you to get your bum down on the ground to sit and play with your child. This is not a job for the iPad, the TV, or any device or toy that tells your child to “repeat after me”. I’m talking about you sitting one-to-one in a connected moment with your child, following the lead of your child’s play, and describing what they are doing.

If you are playing with blocks, for example, you would say, “Johnny is building a tall tower.” When the tower gets knocked over you say, “the tower falls down!”

So, you are describing exactly what your child is doing. This is an extremely powerful technique to develop your child’s language.

TOP TIP 2: Think out loud.

Describe what you are doing. If you’re doing the laundry, say, “Mommy is taking the laundry out of the laundry basket, she puts it into the bag. Let’s go down to the laundry room. Come! Let’s unlock the door. Push the button of the lift. Look! The lift is going down.”

When you are spending time with your children, authentically share with them what you are doing. This requires a certain amount of effort and energy from you as a parent. If you’re not prepared to put in the work, then you’ll have to deal with the consequences.

You may think, “how is a toddler able to conceptualize what I am talking about?” That is not the point. The point is that they get used to the tone, the intonation and the pronunciation of words. They will very soon start repeating the words that you are saying – very often the last word of the sentence, so watch your words.

TOP TIP 3: Speak your native language (bilingual homes).

If Mama Bear comes from South Africa, Mama Bear speaks English. If Papa Bear comes from Russia, Papa Bear speaks Pa Russki. Don’t try to intertwine the languages. Even if the language between Mama and Papa bear is English, make sure that you try to maintain your mother tongue with your child.

Let’s say Mama and Papa bear are both non-native English speakers and have a good command of the language and you would really like to teach your child English. Choose on particular time or area of the day and devote it to English. For example, bath time is done in English, and only bath time is devoted to speaking English. The minute the bathroom door is opened for bath time, start conducting in English. The minute you leave that zone or environment, go back to your mother tongue. This way the child can identify the language with a particular part of the home, a particular activity or a particular person.

Speak to your children! Share your ideas. Tell them how your day was. Tell them what you’ve been doing or what you’ve been thinking. Ultimately, you are setting up your children for how to communicate with you later on. If you want your child to be a good communicator you have to teach them how to communicate – and that takes time and effort.