Talking to babies, toddlers builds critical early language skills


Parents spend a lot of time thinking about the importance of nutrition, sleep and exercise in helping children grow strong and healthy. But what about their language growth?

Early language skills are just as important to a strong start in life as proper nutrition and exercise. Parents can take purposeful steps to nurture the development of those skills.

“Parents are children’s first and ongoing teachers,” says Carol Connor, PhD, an early-literacy researcher at Arizona State University. “They provide the foundation for early learning.”

Conversations during everyday activities support children’s language and early literacy while building a warm and caring connection, she says.

Parents can help support children’s language skills long before they say their first words. Children are little experts at paying attention to the world around them, and they learn from every situation.

Here are some tips to help you turn everyday situations into language-learning opportunities that will nourish your little ones’ speech and vocabulary at any age:

  • Infants (birth to 1½): Don’t be afraid of “baby talk.” Repetition of syllables breaks words down into their most basic pieces. Hearing the pieces over and over helps an infant learn how to put words together. For example, the word “water” becomes “wa-wa.” After hearing the sounds over and over, your child will be able to practice them and start putting them together.
  • Toddlers (1½ to 3): Narrate your life. Toddlers learn to talk by listening to people around them. You can boost their language skills by narrating everything you do when you’re around your child. Doing chores around the house? Share the experience with your toddler: “Now I’m taking the laundry out of the dryer. Now I’m going to fold all the clothes.”
  • Early childhood (3 and up): Play word games. Playing games that involve learning new words is a great way to help kids expand their vocabulary even after they’re talking in full sentences. Search the dictionary for a new word, and make a fun competition for who can use the word most frequently throughout the week. You might even expand your own vocabulary.