The first word is such an exciting moment – definitely worth noting in the baby book! It usually appears around your tot's first birthday, but don't panic if your toddler isn't getting verbal the moment she hits one.
By 18 months, your toddler should be able to say several words and understand hundreds more. There's one word that generally gets a negative reaction from her though – and that's when you say "no"!
Stages of speech
At 12-15 months, your toddler:
- says her first word, often "mama" or "dada"
- recognises her own name but can't say it
- 'shouts' at you when she's cross
- makes tuneful sounds when she hears familiar music
- tries to sing along with you.
At 16-18 months, your toddler:
- uses about six or seven 'key' words a lot
- can listen to your instructions, then do as you ask (if she's feeling cooperative!)
- combines language and gestures to express her needs
- begins to learn the names of parts of the body
- loves songs and nursery rhymes.
Most mums instinctively use 'baby talk' when communicating with their little ones – it has a softer, more tuneful, higher pitched tone of voice – one you'd never dream of using with a grown-up – and includes special baby words that imitate sounds, like 'bow wow' for dog. Used with young babies, it can be helpful in stimulating early language skills.
By the toddler stage at 12 to 18 months, it makes sense to start using proper words when talking to your little one, as this will give her a better basis for those fast-developing language skills.
Reading with your tot is important as it shows her that words are really good fun. Your toddler will love watching your face and listening to your voice as you read, so put loads of expression into your storytelling. She'll probably try to 'join in' as you read the story. Reading a book together should also keep your toddler focused (for a few minutes at least!), which will help boost her ability to concentrate.
It's a good idea to stop occasionally to discuss the story and the pictures, as this will help her to understand how reading works later. Story time is also a great excuse to get really cosy and cuddly together.
Top tips to encourage speech
Chat Your tot will learn language naturally by hearing you speak every day, so keep on talking – especially to her!
Sing Encourage your little one to sing along with you to songs and action rhymes – she'll love learning the actions for I'm a Little Teapot or Incy Wincy Spider.
Interpret When your toddler gestures towards the fridge wanting a drink, put her request into words, saying, "I think you'd like some juice."
Read Snuggle up together for a story session – every day if you can.
Play games Improve your tot's listening skills by naming a simple object and asking your toddler to show you where it is. Be prepared to offer her some hints!