Basic Early Language Development Ideas

These are short descriptions of the basic ideas that I often give parents to help them get communication started.  Communication is always the goal.  Words will come.  A lot of these ideas are from my Hanen training.  I highly recommend all of their information and classes.  

  • Face to Face: get down to your child’s level. Establish and maintain eye contact. Your child needs to be able to see what you are looking at and watch your face and mouth.

  • Imitate: Imitation is a very important skill.  The best way to help your child learn to imitate is to copy what your child says and does.  It is easiest for your child to imitate actions, then sounds (moo, baa, grr, beep, vrrroom etc. and finally speech sounds / words.   Try doing an action as you do a sound / word.  “Dot, dot, dot” as you make dots with a marker, “Splash, splash, splash” as you splash in the tub, “Bang, bang, bang” as you bang blocks together.  

  • Interpret– When your child makes sounds and you have a good idea what those sounds might mean, say the same sounds back first (imitate) and then say the word(s) that the sounds might have meant.  For example, if you child is playing with a ball and says “a a a” you say “a a a … ball”.  Be careful though not to confuse this with pretending to understand.  Pretending to understand is not helpful – it can actually delay communication.

  • Follow Your Child’s Lead and Talk– expose your child to lots of talking that is at or just above what they are able to say. Talk about what they are seeing “Look dog!”, what they are experiencing “Bath time”, and what you are doing “Mmmm soup.”  Talk lots but leave lots of spaces for your child to take his turn.Focus the talking and your attention on what your child is interested in – Follow Your Child’s Lead.  

  • Point as you Talk.  Point to what you are talking about.  Your pointing draws your child’s attention and helps him to make the connection between what you are saying and talking about.  Your pointing also encourages him to point. This is a very important skill.  

  • Expandinghelps your child put words together.  When your child says a word say it back and add another word to it.  For example, if you hear “dog” you could say back “nice dog” or “big dog”.  When you hear two words say three or four words back.   Stay just one step ahead.

  • Take Turns by having a “conversation“ with your child.  Let him start with an action or a sound.  Take your turn by imitating, or saying something or doing something.  Then wait “expectantly” for your child to take his turn.  Wait for at least 15 seconds.  If he hasn’t taken any turn, you take another and then wait again.  Turns can be a look, an action, a sound or a word. Taking turns is having a conversation. 

  • Routines.  Say the same words as you do the same things over and over again.  Say “up, up, up” as you walk up the stairs.  Say “Sock on, shoe on”.  Say “Shut the door” etc.  Also play games where you say the same words over and over again before something fun happens.  “Bubble” before you blow a bubble, “Splash” before you splash in the tub, “Up” before you toss him in the air, “Go” before you chase him, etc.   By repeating the words over and over again in the same routine your child gets to know and expect the words.  Gradually encourage your child to try to imitate the word before the action happens.  Say the word with lots of “anticipation” in your voice and look at your child “expectantly” before doing the action.  

  • Offer Choices.  Hold up a choice in each hand.  Wait for her to look, point, make a sound or say a word.  After she has chosen, say the word for the choice 3 or 4 times and give her what she wants.  Gently encourage your child to make their best communication attempt (look, point, sound or word) but don’t cause too much frustration.  Plan ahead what you will expect.  Never hold out for more than your child can do.  You cannot make children talk.  

  • CreateOpportunity and Need.  Create lots of opportunities and needs for your child to communicate.  Don’t make life too easy.  Put toys where he can see them but can’t reach them.  Don’t “anticipate” needs.  Make him “ask”.  Do part of something then wait.  For example, give him a cup but no juice.  Play with a toy that he can’t do himself, such as a wind-up toy.  Don’t let older children talk for younger ones. Make life a little “interesting” for your child.

  • Pick Five.  To help build vocabulary pick 5 words that you would like your child to learn.  Try picking words that your child would want to use a lot and would be fairly easy for your child to say.  Pick words that would be very motivating such as “up, open, stop, more, want, drink” etc. Pair each word with a gesture. Write the words down and put the list where it is easy to see.  Create situations where you model these words and gestures over and over again to your child. Help him use his hands to make the gestures when appropriate.  As your child starts to use one of the words or gestures on the list, cross it off and add another.  As your child starts to use more and more words his vocabulary will start to snowball and takeoff on its own.  Children often first learn to say “fun” words such as “Ta-da, oh-no, boom, yummy, oopsie,” or words that have repeating sounds such as “mamma, dada, wawa, bye-bye, nana”.  Here is more on Fun Sounds and Words.
  • Gestures – are a very powerful way to help language develop. Some parents worry that using gestures will slow down their child’s talking.  As long as you are saying the word as you make the gesture, this will never happen.  Gestures always help children to communicate and to talk sooner.  As they learn to say the word they stop using the gesture on their own.  Because your child won’t formally be learning or using “sign language” you can pick and make up any hand gesture that makes sense to you and your child.  Try getting the whole family to use the gestures, make it fun.  There are lots of sources for signs on the internet such as, and If you need any ideas for signs just let me know.

  • Limit Questions and Requests.  Limit the number of times you directly ask your child to say words, such as “Say dog”, “Can you say dog”, “Tell grandma Dog”.  Testing or trying to “make” children talk causes children to talk less.  Provide the information – “Look, dog” along with lots of time for your child to take their “turn”.  Watch the number and type of questions that you ask.  Questions such “What this?” or ”What does a cow say?” stops conversations. Comments such as “Wow, look at the big cow” or open questions such as “Where did the cow go?” provide better opportunities for communication.  

  • Make a book.  Children love to “talk” about people, places and things that are important to them.  Use a small photo album and create you child’s own personal Picture Book.  Use photos of people, places and things that are meaningful to your child.  Their favorite toy, food, person, place etc.  Try to keep the photos simple without a lot of clutter in the background.  The book can be used in several different ways.  First it is a great way to encourage your child “talk” about the pictures and to stimulate language development.  The book can also be used to help to your child show you what they are talking about when you are having a hard time understanding. He can point to Spaghetti to let you know what he wants for supper.  

I hope these ideas help.  

Let me know if you have any questions. You can reach through my Contact Page or email me at