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?