Encouraging Early Language

There are many ways to encourage early language:

  • Provide Running Commentary– Running commentary is talking about all the things your child is seeing, doing and feeling. Be sure to use lots of labels. This sounds like, “oh, you have a ball. You rolled the ball. That ball is rolling fast. I have it; I caught the ball.” At the grocery store, “mommy is putting the red apples in the bag. One, two, three apples are in the bag.”
  • Read and Sing Aloud Everyday– Read board books and picture books with your child. Label and talk about the pictures. Have children’s books available on every level of the house and with you in your diaper bag. Sing songs with your child often, particularly songs with movement.
  • Avoid Anticipating Their Needs – When the child points to their cup, rather than just giving it to them, you might hesitate for a few seconds asking what they need. If gestures and points are able to fully communicate, there may be little need for language. I wouldn’t wait to the point of frustration, but enough to encourage them to use words.
  • Use Echo Expansion – Echo expansion is reflecting their language intact and adding to it. If they say, “milk?” you say, “more milk?” If they say “more milk?” you say, “you would like more milk, please?” You are validating their language effort and modeling using more.

Building Vocabulary

Once they are talking, there are many ways to build a child’s vocabulary.

  • Continue giving running commentary – Talk about all the things they are doing and seeing. Be sure to include functional definitions and adjectives.
  • Continue echo expansion – When they say, “more juice,” model back, “you’d like more apple juice, please?” Keep their language intact and ad on. Model longer phrases and more descriptive language.
  • Plan-Do-Review – If you are going to the pumpkin patch this weekend, before you go get out the pictures from last year and discuss the details or check out a few books from the library about pumpkin patches. This is the “plan” part. While at the pumpkin patch give them running commentary about all that is happening. This is the “do” part. After, talk about what was their favorite thing to do or discuss the day when you get the pictures printed. This is the “review” part. Children are benefitting from having the language before, during and after.
  • Encourage emotion language – Label their and your emotions. Talk about the causes and consequences of emotions. Discuss how people calm and how people cope.
  • Play word games – For the beginner, this includes “I spy” and rhyming games. As they get older, this is 20 questions, telephone and Mystery Garden.
  • Practice following directions – By two years old, we expect two-step directions. By three years old, we expect three-steps. A three-step directions is, “go to the kitchen, get your shoes and bring them to the front door.” If you are unsure, play the Crazy Directions game. This is where you say things like, “find the cat, kiss his nose and jump up and down. Ready, go.” This is more fun and serves the same purpose.
  • Give a vocabulary word a day – There are many websites and calendars to build vocabulary, and the idea is to present and discuss a new word each day with you child. See how often you can each use it.
  • Continue to read aloud – Plan to do this long past the point they are reading to themselves. Yes, it is nice to give them time for that, but plan to do both. Everyday have some time spent reading independently and some time spent reading aloud.

Encouraging Early Speech

There are many ways to encourage early speech. Here are a few ideas:

  • Pair Gestures with Your Words – Nod when you say “yes,” wave when you say “hi.”


  • More True Toys, Less Passive Toys – If there are speech concerns, do away with all the electronic toys that do the talking and make the noises for your child. When a child plays with the Fisher-Price Farm, the child should be doing the “mooing” and “baaing” not the toys.



  • Echo Expansion – When the child says “juice?” say, “more juice?” If they say, “more juice?” say, “more juice please?” The idea is to give back their language intact and add to it. You are not requesting or requiring longer phrases, just modeling them.



  • Provide Running Commentary – Running commentary means you are talking about all that you are doing, seeing and feeling. In the grocey store I might say, “we need some apples. Mommy is going to put this red apple in the bag. Now we have two apples in the bag. I am putting the bag in the cart.” Use labels often, rely on repitition, provide functional definitions. If the child points and says “bus” giving a definition would be, “yes, the school bus takes children to school.”



  • Give Language to Their Pointing – When the child is excited and pointing, but not able to come up with the word that is needed, many parents are quick to fill it in. Let’s say the child sees a dog at the park and is pointing and saying “uh-uh-uh.” It can be tempting to say, “thats’ a dog.” Rather than that, pause, point and say, “look,” or, “what’s that?” pause for a few seconds again before you say, “that’s a dog.” You are first giving language to their pointing and then giving them time to find the word themselves before you fill it in.



  • Don’t Anticipate Needs – If all the child has to do is point toward the fridge to get a cup of milk, there is very little need for language. At least for a few seconds, not to the point of frustration, pretend to not know what they mean. Let them grapple a bit for the word.



  • Don’t Repeat Mispronunciations – As cute as they are, if there are speech concerns don’t repeat mispronunciations. Now this shouldn’t feel like a correction either. If the child says “ram-baid” when asking for a band-aid avoid saying, “no honey, it is band-aid.” This feels like a correction, and now the child doesn’t want to talk to you. Just respond in the positive with what they meant and clearly anunciate. Say, “yes, you need a BAND-AID.”


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