Thursday, 14 October 2010

Teaching your two year old to speak

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I often get asked by friends if their child in 'normal' in terms of speech and language development. I am probably not the best person to ask, I spent most of my speech pathology career working with adults, but I feel more and more confident with this question. With my own children as models, I was able to really make sense of the process of language acquisition. It fascinates me. Really fascinates me. It always has.

So on Tuesday whilst at work a friend asked me how much her (nearly) two year old should be talking and how she might help him get going a bit more.

Here's what I said to her (pretty much what I always say).

There are no real 'norms' for children at the age of two. Usually they are putting 2 words together and have a vocabulary of more than 50 words. Not necessarily 'real' words, but words that they use to talk about things. Their sound repertoire is limited but they should have the 'early sounds'. Things like /h/, /y/, /w/, some vowels, /b, p/, /d, t/, /m/ and /n/. Anything else is really a bonus. Things start to look more similar for children by three.

Firstly, determine if you have any concerns with his level of understanding. If you do, see your GP to check for middle ear infections, get a hearing assessment and go and see a speech pathologist.

Secondly, determine if you have concerns only with speech and language or if there are other areas of development that you are worried about too. If you feel your child has a more general problem, see your GP and/or paediatrician.

If he hears okay, understands your questions and follows your instructions (lucky you!) and you have no other concerns, then he may benefit from some language stimulation techniques.

Trust your instincts. If you are worried, I mean, lie awake at night, thinking kind of worried, then go and get him assessed by a speech pathologist.

Talk to your child constantly. Repeat target words, over and over. "Mummy is cooking dinner. Yum. Dinner. Making dinner. Making dinner in the kitchen. Are you ready for dinner? Want dinner? Dinner!"

If he has one word, help him get some more by putting his word with another. If he says "More!". Try More what? More apples? You want more? More please! Want more Mummy. More apples Mummy. etc

Expect your child to communicate/vocalise before you give him something. He should have to try to say 'tah' or 'me' or whatever it is you would like, but be consistent with this. Don't give him what he wants unless he tries.

Write down all the words he says and what they mean (sometimes the same word might have different connotations in different situations e.g. /boo/ might be spoon, blue, peek-a-boo, boozie etc.) Work out how much he is really saying. You may be surprised!

Give him choices when you offer him something. "Juice or milk?" You are modelling the words you want him to say and he can't just answer 'yes' or 'no'. He has to try. Be patient and keep repeating the question until he has a go (unless he is completely frustrated at which time you might get him to point to the one he wants and repeat the appropriate word again).

Read to your child. Everyday. As many books as you and he can tolerate. Don't necessarily read the words of the story (he may not follow them) but use the picture books to label things, people, actions, colours and emotions. Count things on the page. Match things. Make connections between things on the page and things in his real world ("Oh! That's a tractor. A red one. Just like Grandpa's tractor. Where's grandpa's tractor?")Repeat words and concepts over and over and over.

Signing might help. Sometime learning a few signs for key words will reduce frustration. I had a great guest post by MandyE recently on how you might do this.

There are a million other things you can do, and perhaps some of my speechie mates can pipe in with their suggestions in the comments section. For more information, you can also check out the Speech Pathology Australia fact sheets.

How did you find your child's speech and language was at two? Were all your kids in a similar place, or did you have a super-star? What strategies do you use to help your children learn to speak?


life in a pink fibro said...

Great advice. Mr6 was a talker from an early age. Mr3 did nothing much vocally until he was nearly two - and we have been trying to get him to stop talking ever since.

PinkPatentMaryJanes said...

Considering that I never shut up {I was always talking/reading/singing to my daughter} she was either going to be a big talker, or wouldn't get a word in edgeways. Great advice here - and I agree, that if you're worried, there's normally a reason to be!

mummabear1970 said...

What fabulous advice! I do remember wondering to myself if our young miss was talking enough when she was 2. As we have large age gaps with our 3 kids it had been a while since we had had a 2 year old. But I let things take their course & now at 3 she is chattering away & has quite a large vocabulary. I guess sometimes we put unknowingly pressure on our 2 year olds, as we know that is the age they start to talk. Do we expect they are just going to wake up one day & have a conversation with us? We need to remind ourselves that it takes time to learn to talk, just like it took them time to learn to sit, crawl & walk. I love the joy on their faces when we have understood something they have been trying to say to us!

esther said...

what a great post, thank you! i totally agree with all your thoughts on this one...we are raising our both bilingually as my husband and are both native speakers of our own languages (english and hungarian). at 25 months, they boys speak both a 25-months old kids level, that is. they have a ton of words- probably over a 100 now between the two languages. they understand both languages just great, although their hungarian comprehension is a bit ahead that of english at the momentm, simply because they are with me all day long. when they learn a new word, they will say it in whichever languages it is easier to pronounce. for instance, they say "auto" instead of car, but say "boat" instead of the hungarian version. what is fascinating, though, is that they are already separating and know which language to use with which parent...oh, and i would like to mention that the twinkies were considered "behind" at 18 months because they only had 5 spoken we did speech therapy for 4 months and they caught up to age-appropriate and we stopped going...speech is amazing, seeing kids pick up more than one is even more amazing...but yeah, in a nutshell, you have great points!!!

MandyE (Twin Trials and Triumphs) said...

What an excellent post! I'm forwarding a link to a couple of friends whose kiddos are about this age. I think every parent worries whether her child is developing at the appropriate rate; it's so nice to have some very general guidelines as a reference.

And I agree...whether you're talking, or reading, or singing, or signing...communicate with your kiddos as much as you can. It's so rewarding when they start to reciprocate!

DancingInTheRain said...

I love that you have such a passion for your chosen field, its inspiring.

x0xJ said...

I love that you reccommend baby signing, and that you offer a 2 word choice that isn't yes or no. I often advise friends of that method and they brush it off which frustrates me because they then continue to complain about how their child's speech isn't progressing.
We had very mild problems with Master B's speech which opened up a world of insight for us. At 16months old his vocab was restricted to 2 words "Ta" and "dada". And early walker, all his other milestones were spot on fantastic, brilliant even. We were told to wait it ok. It was ok, that really he has until 18months old to hit the 5 word target.
In those 2 months he was well and truely OVER the 5 words.
I think that parents also need to try not to pre empt what their child could achieve in a short time frame. Their minds are like sponges, you can repeat things for days and days, weeks, sometimes months and be thinking to yourself "why aren't they getting this" and then one day they will wake up and do it like they have been their whole life.
Remain patient, let the mark come, if they don't hit it, then talk to someone if you're worried.

Also, parents should never under estimate the power of reading to your children. I have always read to my boys, and whilst Master D isn't talking the way Master B was at his age, he uses baby sign and so communicates much more. Master B at 4 is reading books! Honestly, i put this down to reading to him his whole life, it taught him how to speak, we learnt colours and letter recognition. We learnt shapes and how to count. And now he is picking books up and reading to his younger brother.
It's amazing how much the simple things do for our kids!

katepickle said...

Fabulous post... lots of practical helpful stuff there!

My twins, who were closely monitored for speech issues (you know, because they are twins and were born prem) spoke very well very early.

My boy child... he said nothing at the age of two except 'Duck". Not 'Mum' not even anything that sounded like 'Mum'. Not 'no', not 'Dad'... just Duck.

I did worry a little... I double checked his hearing and development which was all good so I tried to keep my worry in check and suddenly, just before 2.5 years he started to talk, in full sentences, and he hasn't shut up since :)

Maxabella said...

This is practical, insightful, helpful, passionate MultipleMum gold. X

Anonymous said...

Thank you for the post! Z is two years old and says momma ( and lots of incomprehensible sounds). He is an extremely good communicator- no one has trouble figuring out what he wants! (He is middle child, and knows probably 20-30 words in sign language). But, he doesn't talk! Everyone insists I need to take him to speech therapy. Now that new baby is here and we are getting back to our new normal, I am going to get back to reading books and making him try. I did this yesterday. He was making his ehhhh sounds for a drink of my tea. I knew he wanted the tea but told him, I don't know what you want (this was actually because I didn't want to give him my tea :) I occasionally let them have a drink if we are in the car and they don't have drinks- so this was totally unintentional but shows how well these things help!) So he adamantly told me," tah, tah, tah" reluctantly I gave him a drink because he tried! We had only practiced the tah sound once earlier that day!

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