Late talking: How to improve your child’s early vocabulary

happy girl

It can be quite concerning when your child doesn’t talk as much as you would expect, or is slow to start talking. So how can you make sure you are doing everything you can to help your child learn how to talk?

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As a parent, we all long for that first word from our children (and we all secretly hope it will be our name). But when your child has yet to say their first word beyond the age where you would normally expect a child to start talking, or is slow to build their vocabulary once they do start talking, this can be quite worrying for many parents. So how can you support your child to learn to talk more?

I have first hand experience of late talking with my own children. My first born was a very early talker, and so I was quite surprised, frustrated and concerned when my subsequent twins took a while to utter those all-important first words. The time kept passing, but my twins never seemed to start talking. They were babbling and making lots of noises – they were clearly very vocal – but the words took forever to come. They had been developing relatively typically up to that point, and I must admit that it did really bother me.

If you are in the same situation I was then I hope I can help you. I am happy to say that I used the tips I am about to share with you, and my twin boys did finally talk -they are now 7 years old with a fantastic vocabulary, and never stop talking! I’m here to reassure you that your child will do all the things they are meant to do at the time they are supposed to… but there’s always extra support you can give to help them out.

Oh, and rather frustratingly… both of my twins first words were cat!

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What factors might affect how quickly my child talks?

There are many factors which could delay your child’s speech. Here are just a few of these:

  1. Being born prematurely – babies who are born prematurely typically show a delayed development in the early period of their life, as they ‘catch up’ with their adjusted age.
  2. Being a second or subsequent child – young children with older siblings often find they do not need to talk as much, as older siblings will do the talking for them and translate their needs to their parents.
  3. Being a twin – twins are known to develop their own ‘language’ to communicate with each other, which can delay their talking.
  4. Having a disability – some babies are born with illnesses or medical needs which can affect their ability to talk. This may be a known condition, or something which has yet to be identified.
  5. Having a hearing problem – children who can’t hear properly will often talk later due to not being able to hear their family talking around them.
  6. Being exposed to more than one language – children who hear more than one language in the home often have slightly delayed speech.

How can I encourage my child to talk?

young child
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A typical child has usually said their first word by the age of around 18 months, and should be able to have a conversation using simple sentences by the age of 3 (remember, this is just a guide and every child will have their own ‘normal’). If you are concerned about your child’s development, here are some ways to you can support them to develop their language skills:


Talk to them. This one may sound really obvious, but talking to your child is probably the very best thing you can do to support your child’s speech development. For me, it is how you talk to them that really matters though: children who hear a wide range of different tones, volumes, and sounds will have a great example to take into their own developing speech. Parents often forget that very young children need to be spoken to in order to learn about language and communication, and I totally understand that it can feel quite unnatural to talk to someone who cant talk back to you. However, narrating your life in simple ways for your child (i.e. ‘did you hear that knock on the door? I wonder who that could be. I better go check’) or pointing out random things that happen in life (i.e. ‘oh look, there’s an aeroplane up there. I wonder where they’re flying to’) is interesting for your child and teaches them so much about conversation – and they begin to realise that people like talking to them too. Remember, even if they are not replying to you, they are taking in both your verbal and non verbal methods of communication and building their growing understanding of words and talking.

parent and child talking
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Read to them. The benefits of reading to your child are simply amazing – it is one of the best things you can ever do for your child’s development. It is not just good for speech, but has many positive benefits for vocabulary building and intelligence, and promotes a loving and cosy bond when you sit closely to share a story together. When reading, you use lots of different tones and repetitions without even realising, and books often introduce children to words that they may not usually hear used in everyday life. There are a range of great books out there, but here are some of my favourites (click on the photos below for more information). Top tip: don’t feel that you need to stick to books aimed at the age range of your child. Instead, find books that you find interesting and can read with passion (with pictures), as this will be more beneficial to your child – you can always stop before the end if your child starts to lose focus.

Use flashcards. Flashcards are really great for children’s understanding of language, and can be made into a fun activity to promote speech. You could practice a few different ones each day, introducing new ones as your child has learned each of them, or you could mix them up each time. I really like these flashcards, available on Amazon.

Explain the meaning of new words. When your child comes across a word they might not have heard before, give them an explanation of what it means (even if they cannot yet ask). Children often understand much more than they can say, so they may not yet be able to show you they know what you’re explaining to them, but it will certainly provide them with long term benefits.

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Sing to them. Children love to hear your voice, but they especially love to hear you sing. Much like books, singing teaches your child about rhyme and tone, and introduces new language to them. There are so many nursery rhymes out there, but even pop songs are great entertainment to your child.

mom singing
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Encourage their words. Children are often masters at non verbal communication long before they ever say their first words, for example pointing at the cup they want. As parents, we try to be responsive to our child’s needs, and as such we get used to reacting to their non verbal cues. However, sometimes we actually encourage them to be a bit verbally… well, lazy – why would they need to speak when you’re doing what they want anyway? Instead, try sensitively encouraging their use of language by asking them what they want: if they point to the cup, clarify this using words (e.g. ‘do you want the cup?’). Open questions are also a great way to encourage your child to talk more – instead of asking questions which simply require a yes or no answer, ask them questions which provide them opportunities to answer with more detail (e.g. ‘what do you think is inside the box?’).

young child
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Play games. Simple games like peek a boo or hide and seek help to teach children about turn taking, which is a vital element to effective communication too. You can also chat about what is happening, the rules of the game, or what you liked about it, which supports language development.

child playing peekaboo
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Let older siblings know how to help. Older siblings are often a huge help with their younger brothers and sisters, and usually enjoy playing and talking to their younger siblings. However, much like us adults, they become experts at understanding what their siblings need through their non verbal communication (or limited verbal communication), and often take on the role of ‘translator’ for what the other child needs. This can be helpful, especially when you are short of time or have your hands full with other things, but can discourage your child from making the effort to talk. Instead, try teaching your other children the verbal techniques mentioned above and the reasons why it is important, and then praise them for being fantastic teachers – it is win win for everyone.

siblings hugging
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Limit dummy (pacifier) time. I get it – they’re a bit of a lifesaver sometimes. But as your child grows, they start to restrict your child’s speech. Your child will have to make the effort to take the pacifier out of their mouth, or they get used to talking while holding it in their mouth, and neither of these options are great for their development. Try to sensitively start cutting down it’s usage at the times your child can be distracted, until they no longer need it.

young boy with pacifier
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Give them a range of foods. You may struggle to see the relevance of this last point, however your child’s diet is an important part of their developing speech. Your child needs to develop their mouth muscles in order to be able to talk properly, and chewing on a range of foods and textures is a great (and healthy) way to develop this. Raw foods such as carrot sticks and apples are good for getting your child chewing, and well as foods you need to chew such as meat.

colourful vegetables
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Ensure your child gets enough sleep. We all know a cranky child is an absolute nightmare! But a good nights sleep is also vital for learning and memory. Getting the right amount of sleep helps your child to process the words they know, and

child asleep
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I hope these tips will be useful for you and your child – hopefully your child will be talking in no time. However, if after trying these tips for a while your child is still not talking, or you notice anything else about their development which concerns you, then I advise you to talk to your child’s medical professional for more individualised advice.

Love, Heather x

*While your here, please consider checking out my other articles, subscribing and liking my posts, as well as sharing them on your social media pages. You might also want to click on a few of the ads that appear: this will support my blog to grow, and hopefully allow me to help a wider range of parents. Please note, my blog sometimes contains affiliate links – but I only ever recommend products I actually believe in. Thank you so much for stopping by x *

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Author: Heather

I am a parent and teacher, as well as a parenting blogger.

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