By Raising Children Network
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As a toddler, your child begins to master language. You can encourage her talking skills just by listening to her and chatting together.

Father connecting with toddler through play

What to expect

Your toddler will probably start to:

  • speak in correct sentences from 24-30 months
  • be understood by strangers from 26-36 months
  • use pronouns (I, you, me, we, they) and some plurals from 26-36 months
  • use up to 1000 words by three years
  • understand most of what adults say by about three years.

By birthday number two, your toddler will probably delight in naming everyday things, such as ‘doggie’ and ‘drink’. He’ll also be able to understand and follow a simple request, such as ‘Bring me your book’ or ‘Wave bye-bye’.

By the age of three, your child will probably progress to simple sentences, such as ‘Where doggie gone?’ By now strangers will probably be able to understand most of what she says, even though she’ll still struggle to express some words clearly.

It can be frustrating for toddlers – they can have so much to tell you but can’t quite get the words out. If you give him time, your toddler will get there eventually, with some confusing and hilarious misunderstandings along the way. Trying and making mistakes are important parts of learning.

Learning to talk is a complex skill. When you’re helping your child express herself, try to focus on having fun together, rather than seeing it as just a teaching opportunity. 

Play ideas to encourage talking

The more words you expose your child to, the more words he’ll learn. To encourage attempts to talk through play, you can:

  • read to your child
  • talk together about anything that comes into your head, or explain what you’re doing (even if it’s mundane) – for example, ‘Daddy’s vacuuming the carpet to get rid of all the dust that can make you sneeze’
  • sing songs - our Baby Karaoke can help you get started
  • recite nursery rhymes
  • use story and song CDs in the car
  • copy attempts at words, to encourage two-way conversation
  • praise efforts to talk
  • when your child is ‘talking’, show that you’re listening by smiling and looking at him
  • leave spaces after what you say to give your child a chance to reply, even if he doesn’t have the right words to do so. This helps children learn about conversation
  • expand on basic words – for example, when your toddler says ‘train’, you can say, ‘Yes, it’s a big red train’
  • point to and name body parts, or make it into a game – for example, ‘Where is your mouth?’

Limit screen time

Screen time is the time you spend watching TV or DVDs, using the computer, playing video or hand-held computer games, and using a mobile phone. Long periods of screen time have been associated with a range of health issues in toddlers and preschoolers, as well as the slower development of language skills, short-term memory and poorer social skills.

So at this young age, it’s important to limit your child’s amount of screen time.

Television isn’t recommended for children under two years. For children aged 2-5 years, screen time should still be limited to less than one hour per day.

It might be a good idea to see a health professional for advice if at 18 months your toddler isn’t babbling often, isn’t using meaningful words or doesn’t seem to listen when others are talking. You might also want to see a doctor if you can’t understand your child’s speech by the time she’s three, or if she still isn’t speaking much by then. 
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  • Last Updated 16-03-2011
  • Last Reviewed 02-11-2009
  • Bornstein, M.H., & Lamb, M.E. (1992). Development in infancy: An introduction (3rd edn). New York: McGraw-Hill.

    Tamis-LeMonda, C.S., Shannon, J.D., Cabrera, N.J., & Lamb, M.E. (2004). Fathers and mothers at play with their 2- and 3-year-olds: Contribution to language and cognitive development. Child Development, 75(6), 1806-1820.