Language Development
Toddlers 1-2 Years Old

Oh the year of the first words! This year can be so exciting! Parents get to hear their child's first words. However, it can be quite stressful for some parents if their child is a late talker. Trust me, I know. My son is a late talker!!

Outlined below are language techniques to use with your child to encourage those first words and vocabulary growth. Have fun!

Introduction: Language Development

Before we jump into techniques, it is important to learn the basics of language development. Knowing the theory is crucial when practicing language skills with your child. 

If this is your first visit, please read the background information now!

Speech and Language Developmental Milestones

Before you get started, review the speech and language milestones for children 1-2 years old.

If you want a checklist to print and keep track of progress, please clink on the link: Toddler 1-2 Years Old Speech and Language Milestone Checklist. Otherwise, review the chart below. 

Speech & Language Milestones: 1-2 Years

Expressive Language
(Speaking Skills)

  • Uses 30-50 words consistently 
  • 60% intelligible to unfamiliar listeners 
  • Imitates words easily 
  • Vocabulary increases each month 
  • Speaks with 2 word phrases 
  • Asks simple questions 

Receptive Language
(Understanding Skills)

  • Points to body parts 
  • Follows simple directions 
  • Understands "no" 
  • Points to pictures in books 
  • Understands about 300 words
  • Listens to short stories

Toddler Language Learning Techniques
1-2 Years Old

1. Set The Scene

Before we get to the language techniques, we need to set the scene for successful communication. Here, I will cover proper body positioning and appropriate conversational styles. These tips should be used throughout the day as much as possible.

Please read through the information and then try some of the attached activities.

Speech therapists love acronyms since they are a fantastic memory strategy. So, in the spirit of things, let’s call the technique of setting the scene “BLTT” (bacon, lettuce, tomato, with an extra tomato).

  • Body Positioning
  • Life is Not a Quiz
  • Take the Pressure Off
  • Talk While Playing

Read More Here: Set The Scene

2. Language Simplified

First things first, let's review how to talk to your child. There are a few different thoughts on this and I will give you my two cents now. Some people believe that when talking to children, a parents needs to use complex, complicated language so the children learn such structures. However, I have a different way of thinking.

Read More: Language Simplified

3. Imitation

Next on the list, your child has to be able to imitate. This is one of the most important early language skills. I might be as bold as to say it is the most important. A child has to be able to repeat sounds, words, actions, and social skills as he or she learns language.

However, if your child is not imitating or not imitating consistently, it is a little more complicated than simply saying "say....." to your child. A child may freeze up due to the pressure. Teaching your child how to imitate is not as easy as one would think.

This section is divided into 3 parts:

Please click on the section that applies to your child.

4. 3 Strikes & You Win!

3 Strikes & You Win is a great technique to encourage your toddler to use words instead of pointing or grunting. This technique models a word multiple times without pressuring your child to say it. Some parents feel that this technique is too passive, but it is not. It actually encourages your child to use words instead of pointing or screaming without frustrating him or her or you!

Click here to start this section: 3 Strikes & You Win!

5. Question Time

Ahhh…questions, this can be a tricky one. Too many questions can be very stressful for a little language learner, especially open-ended questions (i.e., “how are you?”). However, questions should not be avoided altogether either. They are a necessary part of communication and if used correctly, can expand your child’s vocabulary immensely. The key here is balance and asking questions in the correct manner.

Read More Here: Question Time

6. Singing

When we sing, we activate the right side of our brain. When we speak, we activate the left side of our brain. For our late talkers, the speech center on the left side of the brain may not be developing as quickly as it should. By activating the right side of the brain through singing, it helps to compensate for any delays in the language centers in the left side of the brain.

There are 2 ways to approach singing as a language learning endeavor: Finger play songs and singing. For all approaches, it is important that you sing rather than just playing a children’s CD or Pandora.

Finger play songs, which are songs that have hand motions to accompany the lyrics, are the best way to reap the most benefits from singing time. Finger play songs activate the right side (singing) and the left side of the brain (lyrics) and the primary motor cortex (hand movements). With some late talkers, repeating words is difficult due to language difficulties and/or too much pressure. With singing, some of the pressure is taken off. Also, your child can still participate in the “singing” by performing the motor tasks of the hand movements. Once your child becomes comfortable and familiar with the motor tasks, speech is usually soon to follow. 

Favorite Finger Play Songs

I am not a very good singer...well my son may disagree but he is the only one :) So, I will not torture you and make you listen to me sing. Instead, I am providing links to YouTube videos where you can learn the lyrics and hand movements to some of my favorite finger play songs.  Below are links to YouTube videos.

Singing children’s songs or even made up songs throughout the day is also a great activity to help develop language. With my own child, I have a song for almost every daily activity including hand washing, getting ready for eating, getting ready for bed, marching, etc… At the moment, my toddler just smiles and dances while I sing, but he is starting to know which song is paired with which activity. This is a great receptive language (understanding) skill. Soon, I expect that he will sign along with me. If your child enjoys music, try making up some songs with words you are practicing. It is fun and beneficial!

What's Next?

If your child has made a lot of progress with the techniques listed above, head on over to the next language section: Language Development 2-3 years.


› Toddler 1-2