8 Everyday Ways To Encourage Speech & Language in Toddlers (1-4 Years)

Little M just turned 15 months earlier this week and it’s been amazing and so much fun watching him start to express himself a little more through a recognisable vocab. I decided to share my few favourite everyday things that you could do with your little one to encourage development of speech and language. It is simply an opportunity for bonding, and best of all no real prep required. They can be done in your everyday routine, but most importantly, a time to have fun with your little one!


When does Speech & Language develop?

Language is such an important part of development – It can cause so many frustrations when a child has no idea how to express their needs or when the adult is unable to understand their ways of communication as they get older.

Simple language development starts from birth through baby’s cries, coos, responding to sounds, etc and develops to peekaboo games and eventually first words around 7-12 months. Between 12-18 months first words /phrases with meaning start to emerge, with some bilingual kids starting a bit later. Research however shows that bilingual children do quickly catch up with monolingial children.

I have included a few pointers to look out for a speech and language developmental delay at the end of this post.

Disclaimer: Please note the tips shared on my blog are for informational purposes and are in no way a substitue for medical therapy. Please consult with your therapist or peadiatrician for any concerns. 

Ways To Encourage Speeach & Language

1. Use Flash Cards

This has been so much fun to do and really simple. Write out simple and complex everyday words that your child uses daily. Use white or yellow paper with clear black marker in order to easily track the words visually. I started my little one off with 4 or five words from about 9 months old.  After breakfast and during playtime, I’d read the words out loud to him and show him.

Around 9-10 months, our little ones usually understand more associations and will try and categorise words and things around them. I associated the written word with the actual object, for example, when reading the word cup, I’d show him his actual cup and give him a chance to respond, even if it was random babbles.

  • Start off with a few words as to not overwhelm them
  • Be consisitent with repeitions and soon they’ll catch on

Ways To Encourage Speeach & Language


2. General Pointing and encouraging using words to make requests

Using gestures like pointing or waving encourages simple communication as the adult names and describes the object being pointed to or the action being done. Your child will see an action produces an outcome that they may desire (cause an effect).

How would you get your child to start pointing?

  • Follow their lead and interests and model this gesture during songs, reading books and everyday routines, eg, “We’re going outside now” and point to ‘outside’ area.

3. Action Songs

Songs are a great way to teach the rythm and context of language amongst so many other things! With the tunes and words staying the same, and lots of participation and joint attention involved, it is just a matter of time before vocab starts to burst forth.

We love taking our favourite songs to encourage first word vocab and body parts (familiarirty is key). I’d stop and pause before the next word in the song and M (15months) happily tries to sing the next word. For example, “Twinkle, Twinkle Little…[I pause and he says:]…Star!” Encourage participation as much as possibble, even if their first tries are babbles of some sort.

Another fun thing is to associate a specific song with cleaning up time or another routine time of day, which gets them going without having to enforce it. This totally works miracles! While cleaning up may be a chore for us, it’s just another challenge for your little one to complete.


4. Reading books and Picture schedules

  • Reading aloud, pointing and describing the objects in the book as well as trying to relate them to your little one’s world are all great aids…and lots of fun. Encourage participation by pausing and allowing your child to respond. Get you little one involved by picking his favourite book, and learning to associate where the books belong. They will start to point to this spot, which provides an opportunity for you to label: ‘bookshelf, books, read, etc’
  • Model actions in the book and get them involved in pretend play using objects from the book.
  • Encourage as much imitation as possible.
  • Engage and capture your child’s imagination by creating your own stories and using your tone.

Ways To Encourage Speeach & Language


5. Introduce Signing

This can be a great way to speed up language and communication generally. I chose a handful of signs most commonly used in our day-to-day (including ‘more’, ‘milk’, ‘hungry’, etc) and introdued 2 or 3 signs with lots of repetition. I started around 10 -11 months and even though I became consistent with this, M still caught on (these first years really allow for amazing receptive abilities).  A few weeks later he started signing for his milk feeds.

Signing has lots of beneifts – aside from language development, it also encourages fine motor skills, bonding and decreases frustration of not knowing how to communicate their needs when words fail them, even after vocabulary has developed.

If you choose to start baby sign language, be consistent with the signs you choose. Babies are usually able to start learning signing around 6 months of age. Be Realistic with your expectations (consider your child’s readiness and amount of signs you’re teaching, etc). Be patient, consistent and keep it simple. 🙂

Find out more about South African Baby Signs from these sites:

[Not Sponsored]


Baby Signing




6. Respond to your Little One’s simple babbles, laughs and conversations intiated by them.

Following your child’s lead in conversation not only encourages language, but also builds their confidence in taking initiative. Expand on your little one’s ideas that they bring up and gain their attention by sharing in their interests too.

If you’ve run out of ideas on how to expand on thier interests, here are a few prompts:

  • Talk about properties of the object of interest – think SENSES (sounds it makes, smells, does it taste yummy, sour, bitter, etc, feels rough, soft, gooey, etc, what does it look like?)
  • Colour, size, shape
  • Position – arrangement of object or where it is in relation to the child – ontop, below, next to, etc
  • Number – object count out a set of items
  • Pronoun – Define who has which object, eg “This book is yours, this book is mine.”
  • Movement of the object – “The blocks fell down

Ways To Encourage Speeach & Language


7. Talk through what you are doing during the day

  • Use complete sentences – modelling good speech is important, especially as your toddler gets older. This also increases the number of words your child is exposed to on a daily basis – and their understanding of this will develop over time.
  • Get interactive and allow them to respond and imitate too.


8. PLAY! 🙂

This one is probably my favourite!

  • Encourage your child to engage in pretend play, for example, using a telephone to have conversation. This brings into play turn taking in conversation too.
  • Sharing toys will also give your little one an opportunity to say ‘yes’ or ‘no’.
  • Use the prompts mentioned under POINT 6 to expand on your child’s play interests.
  • Allow your child to sort and group their toys into colour, shape, or items you’ll find in the shop, animals in the sea or on land, etc.
  • We also love taking walks in our yard and I will allow my little one to lead the way. As he explores we’ll describe and label what captures his attention. We also have a little ‘treasure jar’ to collect items he finds…it gets interesting when he comes with bugs and dirt of all sorts! Haha,  but this brings a few different words and experiences into play.


Speech/ Language Delays?

Speech and Language do differ with speech being the verbal expression/articulation of words as we know, while language is more of the understanding of words and being understood through verbal, non-verbal, written means.

Kids usually need time, prompting and encouragment, however delays in speech/language is best treated with early detection. If your child is showing multiple of the following signs, please consult your Peadiatrician/ Medical Practitioner.

  • Your little one prefers gestures over vocalisations around 18 months, does not imitate sounds and has difficulty understanding simple verbal requests.
  • By 2 years, your child is not producing any kind of spontaneous words, phrases, is unable to imitate actions or sounds or is unable to follow instructions.


Was this helpful? Leave a comment/ like below 🙂 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *